Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Capital Business: Best Buy's next act?

This column was first published in Capital Business on Aug. 13: 

There was a time when shopping at Best Buy was a special treat.

I’d pile the whole family in the car and as soon as we stepped through the front doors everyone would scatter, the boys to the video games, mom to the CD bins, and me, well, I’d do the whole electronics circuit, slowly.

I spent a small fortune at our local big box until one day I ordered a microwave and somehow the staff just could not seem to get it in my hands. I’d get a call telling me it was in the store, and when I arrived the clerks would tell me it was still in the warehouse. Three times this happened. When the manager acted as if he could care less, I canceled the order and never went back.

So when I heard last week that founder Richard Schulze had offered to take private the struggling electronics retailer, I was curious. After all, electronics have all but become commodities these days, and brick-and-mortar stores seem mere showrooms for the discounters online.

Will Fuentes, however, offered a different take. Will was once a general manager at Best Buy. He now runs an Arlington start-up called Lemur Technologies that has developed software to help retailers move slow-moving inventory.

He argues Best Buy should embrace “showrooming,” and hire knowledgeable salespeople who are prepared to offer price-comparing customers a deal on the spot. The chain should focus on the customer’s experience, and bundle products to make shopping easy.

“They also should leverage the fact that they can sell appliances, computers, cell-phones, TV’s and Geek Squad services and installation and become the only retailer that can truly create the connected home,” he told me by e-mail.

Sure, he said, new gizmos can quickly become commodities these days, but there’s always another innovation right around the corner, beckoning customers to have a look.

And a place like that might just be welcoming enough to get a guy like me to shop again.

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