Ever since 50 Best Buy (BBY) store closing locations were announced, and plans for future Best Buy stores in smaller formats were revealed, analysts and experts have been speculating whether the shifts in Best Buy indicate the death of big box stores in the U.S. retail industry. Personally I kind of thought that the bankruptcy of the Borders, Linens 'n Things, and Circuit City chains were some pretty good future indicators for big box stores. So really, aren't Best Buy's changes more of a confirmation than a revelation?
The confirmation that Best Buy is providing to the U.S. retail industry, however, may not be all about impending doom for the physical big box format. If Best Buy can successfully navigate its changes without any stopovers in bankruptcy court, it will be partially due to the transformation of its big box stores, and largely due to the transformation of its big-box mentality.
I recently visited a consumer electronics competitor of Best Buy to purchase a micro SD card for my mobile phone. The greeter at the door asked if he could help me find anything, walked me to the correct section of the store, passed me off to the appropriate department employee who asked a few questions, and based on my answers, retrieved my memory card. After I indicated that I didn't know where to pay, he walked me to the cash registers and passed me off to a cashier.
At the end of my payment transaction the cashier asked if I wanted a bag for my purchase and I told her that I didn't need one because I was going to install it right away. She offered to use her scissors to open the hermetically sealed packaging for me, which I gratefully accepted. I then asked if she knew which side of the SD card needed to be inserted first and she eagerly confirmed that I was installing it correctly. She then asked if I knew how to format the card, and the look on my face immediately prompted her to offer to do it for me.
She clicked around on my phone, frowned, clicked some more, called over a manager, rebooted the phone, and then figured out that I needed a different card. The manager left to retrieve it, and while the cashier was issuing me a refund for the price difference, the manager installed and formatted the second memory card. I walked out of that store with exactly what I had wanted when I had walked into the store. That is, a phone that was functioning better than ever with more memory than I will ever need.
Time elapsed was 15 minutes.
Even though I was in a big box store, the store employees definitely did not have a big-box mentality. They took the transaction personally. They got involved. They seemed to realize that I didn't just want to walk out with a piece of electronics hardware, I wanted to walk out with a phone that was functioning better with more memory. Despite Best Buy's mission to "solve customer puzzles," these are things that I can't remember ever experiencing at Best Buy, which is part of the reason why I was shopping with a Best Buy competitor.
The death of the big-box mentality is the death of a fundamental misunderstanding about what customers really want, and a new understanding about where the retail experience begins and ends. When inside a big box consumer electronics store, does a customer want a product or do they want an immediate solution? More often than not they want a solution and walking out with a product doesn't necessarily mean they got what they came in for.
Beyond the big-box mentality is the recognition that a transaction isn't complete until the solution is ensured. Beyond the big-sale mentality are employees with a sense of ownership that motivates them to get involved. Beyond the big-boss mentality are managers who focus on the support they can give to the employees who are responsible for creating the customer solutions.
If the big-box mentality was gone, the big box stores probably wouldn't be. Hopefully Best Buy's new CEO will understand that. Otherwise there's probably no amount of marketing, positioning, or competitive pricing that will be able to stave off the death of Best Buy or any other big box stores for long.