Yesterday, I was reading about the upcoming move of Best Buy to reduce the size of its stores and move into the mobile marketplace. I’m not exactly certain what is meant by the mobile marketplace, as the only mobile marketplaces I have ever been familiar with are those who work the various swap meets –  and that certainly doesn’t sound like the domain of Best Buy.

The stated reason for the change is that the company realizes how much commerce is occurring on the internet, which is their obvious way of saying that they are losing money.

That is certainly easy enough to deduce, as from a customer’s perspective, there is little point in ever purchasing anything from Best Buy. As someone who has been purchasing things longer than Best Buy has been around, and has seen a few chain stores (the term big-box is relatively new also) come and go, I feel that I am in a position to make some conclusions about the problems the stores are experiencing.

As I also have many years retail experience, I can certainly say that from a customer service standpoint, I have never been given the kind of treatment in a Best Buy that would make me return to buy if there was another choice. The employees, to a person, are all less interested in serving customers than whatever else might be happening on the planet. I have visited Best Buys where I at one time have seen 6 employees behind a counter all talking about a television program which was on the previous evening, and though I was in agreement with their general assessments of the show, it did nothing to help me in my search for a graphics card which was on sale, which would have put many dollars into the store’s register, as I would have purchased 5 of them. Their avoidance at eye contact with me, and general refusal to go beyond the realm of behind the counter made them useless to me, and to the store.

Instead, I made my customer a better deal and kept him waiting an extra day while I upgraded his machines, choosing instead to get the video cards from NewEgg. The reduced price to my customer did not reduce my profit one iota, as the everyday price of NewEgg was that much lower on the same products. That was 6 years ago, but today, with the cost of gas, and the aggravation of the experience, well, I think that most anyone knowing those facts would eschew Best Buy for the greener pastures of mail order, and customer service.

I have been in Best Buys since that time, many times because someone else I happened to be with was wishing to go there. Each time I was extremely disappointed at what was passing for service (most of the time there was none), and I wondered why it took so many people to keep people from stealing things, as that could be the only reason for their being posted there.

The point I touched on about price is the one which is usually the most important to the majority of people, but those that have done as much work on computers as I have, know that there is solid value in being able to quickly repair a problem, and so immediate replacement from a brick-and-mortar store means that we’re usually willing to spend a bit more, especially if we don’t have complete confidence in a product because it is new, or proven to be of variable reliability. In case some might wonder, there are times when as a systems integrator, you allow the customer to obtain something that you would never use, but for the reasons only they know, they are insistent upon using it. When the product fails inside 90 days, it is very nice to be able to quickly grab another and get them up and running in short order. (While you replace the item, you gently remind them that you warned against the usage, and tell them that not only might they take your advice next time around, but that if the item you are installing goes bad again, after 90 more days, it might just be awhile before the replacement comes. You do this gently, always, and never let the “I told you so” tone come into the conversation.)

But back to the power of deduction – if the people at Best Buy were better at deducing that many people are tired of being ignored, tired of hearing how the store has the best prices (which, even compared to other brick-and-mortars, they do not), and how you could be best served by letting the Geek Squad do a spring cleaning on your wallet remedy your problems, they might:  get a crew that was helpful, and at the very least attentive; lower their prices below retail on everything, and on things easily shopped by the average person, lower a bit more; and try to realize that the prices of Geek Squad, and their spiel about it, are not well tolerated by most customers. Those who wish to use Geek Squad will certainly come, but they will ask, or be responsive to gentle questioning about it, instead of the velvet hammer routine usually employed. They would come to the idea that those were the reasons why the profit margins are shrinking, more than the problems of the economy are causing, because people are hard to separate from their electronics, and they will sacrifice a lot to be able to afford the latest incarnation of whatever they really want. (By the way, the use of the velvet hammer is usually by the cashiers, who are the only ones in the store who pay any attention to the bodies milling about, and the pursuing of the Geek Squad’s assistance must be a condition of their employment, as they all seem to push as though their job depended upon it.)

As someone that has outlived many chains, I can say that most of them forgot that, while the customer is not always right, they frequently are. Also, they are always the ones paying the salaries of those working, so right or not, they had better be taken seriously.

With a small bit of attention to customer service, and a bit of price pruning, even someone such as I, having been too many times disgusted with my visits to those stores, might give them another chance.

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