Can Best Buy Reboot?

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Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner
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Ryck - I can't speak for the U.S., but in Canada, I have returned items to Best Buy and without a hitch or a fee.

Ryck, I'm pretty sure it's 15% here in California. It's been a long time since I checked, but I remember asking about it and being surprised. 

This discourages buying merchandise, taking it home, and trying it out. I'm sure Best Buy can describe all kinds of ways it saves them money -- but it also discourages sales and makes it more likely for the customer to say the heck with it, I'll just buy from Amazon. 

Radio Shack, OTOH, lets you return anytime, no questions asked, for full refund. (Friend of mine bought an iPad 2 from them a few weeks before the iPad 3 came out -- he admits to being the only person on the planet to not know about the iPad 3. Then he returned the iPad 2. He felt guilty about it. I was, like, "Dude, as long as you intended to keep the iPad 2 when you bought it, don't feel guilty. You're using their return policy exactly as they intended you to." But some people like to feel guilty about things.)

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For years retail strategies were based on price, selection or service.  It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a retailer to attempt a strategy based on all three.  The Internet, however, changed some of the trade-offs that retailers faced.  As an example, retailers couldn't stock a wide selection and maintain the lowest prices--the inventory carrying costs traditionally made this not possible.  Amazon, selling via the Internet through cetnralized distribution centers, has shown that you can carry a wide selection and maintain low costs.  Even customer service can be enhanced online through online chat facilities, although it doesn't match the face-to-face experience with a retailer and the product also present.  Having said that, brick-and-mortar retailers are migrating to a stronger customer service strategy, but some are no where close to perfecting this, and the Best Buy anecdotes of other commenters are a clear indication of this.  The other trick that these retailers will face is to intertwine their service with the product, so customers are compelled to buy from them, rather than take their experience and recommendations and purchase elsewhere.

As for the return fee, I heard the same thing, and at that time, I researched it, and learned it was an urban legend.  I can't speak for the U.S., but in Canada, I have returned items to Best Buy and without a hitch or a fee.

Ellis Booker
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Re: Hands on
Ellis Booker   4/2/2012 7:12:46 PM

Oh, Mitch. Sure you can open the boxes. You just need to bring a box cutter or, in my case, an expensive pocket folder with a carbon fiber handle. 

All kidding aside, I didn't know about the return policy/charge. That's no good. 

Mitch Wagner
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Hands on
Mitch Wagner   4/2/2012 4:41:20 PM

One of Best Buy's biggest problems is a simple thing: You can't open the boxes and play with a lot of the merchandise. Also, they charge a fee for returns. 

These policies eliminate one of the few significant advantages of brick-and-mortar over online retail: Ability to go hands-on with the merchandise. 

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Store atmosphere
gstock   4/2/2012 1:58:39 PM

I attended our local Best Buy's grand opening, and spent a good chunk of change.  I moved my CD shopping from B&N to BB, and bought new discs every week for a month.  I took my tech staff in to buy two small utility servers for a database network we were testing.  I suspect I spent >$1K at BB in the first month.

Along around that time, the teenagers (both staff and customers) discovered the volume knobs.  On everything.  The boomboxes.  The TVs.  The stereos.  The really BIG stereos.

However, they did NOT notice that the knobs turned counterclockwise, as well.

I tried going back to the store, two times... three times... even four -- but I couldn't hear myself think!  I'd actually walk around the store turning volumes down first, just so I could shop for a few minutes.  But, by the time I got to shopping, everything was dialed back up to 11.

So, I haven't been in a Best Buy for over five years -- except for one very early morning when I snuck in before the amps were warmed up, to look at multi-TB drives.  I didn't buy one; I just looked.

If they're moving to smaller stores because they simply can't FIND an engineer who can design effective acoustive baffles for a big box, that may help.  Or, maybe a smaller store will have fewer electric outlets, and thus fewer amplifiers.  But, I doubt it.

If they don't care that they're driving people OUT of the store, who cares what they do to drive them IN?  They're not long for this world.

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I've had similar experiences at my local Best Buy. However, I've asked generic questions about product compatibility and haven't gotten good answers.  I could have used my Google-fu to find a better answer and much faster than waiting around for a staff member to acknowledge my existance.  They badly need a reboot but I don't know if they can pull it off.

I don't need the Geek Squad but I've only heard bad things about them and the service on the whole.  I've heard Best Buy hiring mangers would reject applicants with actual technical support experience in favor of generic workers willing to learn the Geek Squad way of providing support.

John Barnes
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I'm at the other extreme, which means I learn exactly enough of the tech to be able to defend myself, and then stop till they develop something else I need to know about.  And Best Buy clerks tend set off my "defend yourself by going to a store where someone knows something" bell.  Which I suspect means they lose the middle of the bell curve more than its extremes: the people who don't need any help race through, pull out the loss leaders, and vanish; the people who know absolutely nothing take whatever the sales staff foists on them.  Everyone between gets the crawly feeling that if there's anything they should know about, these won't be the people who can detect that and tell them.

Mitch Wagner
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Customer service is key to the survival of retail. Stores that don't offer excellent customer service are going to have a hard time surviving against the convenience of online ordering. 

Sounds like Best Buy is going to have a tough time scaling that particular mountain. 

Ellis Booker
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I might worry that my negative evaluation of the Best Buy sales staff (I've never used the Geek Squad service) is skewed because I'm a technology god who uses multiple flavors of Linux and swaps out cell phone motherboards for fun. But, no. I've heard complaints from every quarter, for years. 

On this score, compare Best Buy to Chicago's ABT. There, the sales people will walk you across the floor of the megastore to a colleague who knows the answer to a technology question. The difference is night and day. And to John's point, creating that kind of retail culture doesn't happen overnight.  


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