Is there any point to stores like Best Buy anymore?
I think most people have a love/hate relationship with the big-box chains. And those that don’t tend to have a hate/hate relationship. Recently, CompUSA announced that they’d be shuttering half their stores. Now we find out from Boing Boing and elsewhere that Best Buy has admitted to keeping a fake version of its website running on store computers — the fake site displays higher prices than the real site and can be used to refute customers who claim to have seen a better price online.
Personally, I’ve lost patience with these places. The “helpful” sales people offer assistance and then start reading the product’s package to try and answer my questions. Hint to CompUSA / Best Buy / Circuit City / wherever — it’s incredibly irritating when some salesdrone starts doing exactly what I was already doing, only slower. Train your people to knock it off. If they don’t have an answer, then just have them say they don’t know.
I already avoid CompUSA as much as possible. My most recent visit had some sales guy arguing with me over the existence of a Firewire 800 hub. And I can’t stand their use of supplier operatives to demo printers — the HP rep doesn’t actually tell you that they work for HP as they extoll the virtues of their printers and ignore other brands. Be sure to ask if the person helping you works for the printer company. (Of course, this is a double-edged sword. These people are much better informed about the products they represent. Just don’t think that you’re getting impartial advice. In fact, don’t assume you’re getting impartial advice from anyone in any of these places.)
This news about Best Buy just reinforces how I already felt about them. I already hated how I got offered an extended warranty on just about everything. Their pricing isn’t particularly good. And, as mentioned, the employees can’t do much more than point to where stuff might be located.
How do traditional retailers like these compete? Why wouldn’t I go to Amazon first and take advantage of their thousands of crowdsourced reviews? Sure, you have to be on your toes and look out for astroturfing, but you can usually find reviews that can be relied upon. Why wouldn’t I buy everything online?
CompUSA has made an effort to turn their retail stores into an online strength, allowing me to order online and pick up at a local store recently. But how do they fix the retail stores themselves?
I like retail stores. I like to see products side by side and examine them before I buy. There are reasons why I wouldn’t buy everything online — Best Buy and their ilk just need to give me some.
How about these:
- Knowledgeable salespeople. Train your staff so they can actually help me. Pay them more so they stay longer and gain experience.
- Stop offering extended warranties. Everyone in the world decries these things as a complete rip-off. Why would you associate your brand with these things at all? Let alone constantly? (It should go without saying that phony websites to scam consumers should not be part of the retail strategy.)
- Use some of that massive floor space to set up some of your products. Show people how a wireless home network is configured. I’ve seen a little of this, but not much. How about some educational clinics to educate people?
- Is there any hope that technology will speed up the checkout process? I doubt that a system of roving checkout people like Apple’s EasyPay would work in an environment this large, but can’t there be some way to pre-scan my stuff? I think the massive line at the centralized bank of registers needs some reconsideration.
Given the recent article praising Apple as America’s top retailer (thanks, TUAW!) with over four times the sales per square foot of Best Buy, the big-box stores need a major overhaul. Obviously, Best Buy and Apple are wildly different creatures, with Apple focusing its small retail stores on a narrow selection of products. But unless stores like Best Buy give me a reason to visit them — a good product selection coupled with smart, savvy staff who can inform and enlighten about a given product — then I think I’ll be getting my advice from the millions of helpful folks on the Internet. And checkout will certainly take a lot less time.
Hey, I may even start visiting local specialty stores that focus on what I want to buy. Wouldn’t that be a novel concept?