An Open Letter to Best Buy (updated)

Dear Senior Management at Best Buy,

Recently, I wrote an open letter to Bank of America with one simple piece of advice that I believe would be a catalyst for transforming their business. It was, simply, to quit being jerks. If that became their core filter for every business decision, it would have a transformative effect on their business. I have an equally simple piece of advice for you. Quit selling and start teaching.

I have to admit that I hate shopping in your stores but have put a lot of money in your coffers. Why this seeming contradiction? Because even though I am digitally savvy and can research the hell out of something, I still always wonder if I’m looking at something the right way. And although rating sites are nice, I’ve learned over time that, surprise, people can be biased (or paid to say something). I’ve also learned from experience that something I bought that I thought would be perfect, wasn’t, because information or recommendations I followed weren’t in the context of my life and situation. So that’s why I end up going to Best Buy, because it usually has the greatest variety of products that I can compare and honestly the price is usually pretty close to what I can get online when shipping and inconvenience are factored in.  

So why do I hate shopping at Best Buy? Because it takes a lot of work to find someone that actually knows what they are talking about. And that’s after I can even get someone to pay attention to me. And then I face the gauntlet of pitches that come in ringing me up, even though I begin the process by saying “I’m not interested in any additional warranties or offers.”  

So here’s my advice. Stop selling and start teaching. First, make sure that an associate in a department knows those products backwards and forward. Create incentives and rewards for knowledge and service. Offer commissions not on product sales, but on knowledge imparted. Reduce the clutter in your store to look less like a retail store and make demonstration and conversation the focal point. Help people see the real cost of ordering from Best Buy versus online - we often forget about shipping, returns or service (which are not that big of deal on small items, huge on larger items and technology). 

I know. You are in the business of selling things, not teaching. But if you haven’t noticed the nature of retail is changing, particularly around non-essential items. If a person is buying an HDTV, most aren’t just looking for a bargain-priced store brand to keep their budget on track (although they aren’t automatically going to buy the most expensive name brand that has the most features). This is a purchase for a central element of home life - entertainment. People ultimately want to buy things that fit with their identity, for a reasonable price. If you can help them figure out which product best does that, truly, I can guarantee that most won’t order online just to save $20.

Make this advice central to everything you do. Ask yourself “is this decision more about selling or about teaching?” If you start there, your culture will begin to change and you can transform your company into an even stronger competitor than before.

UPDATE: A colleague pointed out a nice article about Gateway computers trying to educate about the perfect computer, only to have consumers go to Dell for 2/3 the price. Target is panicked that people are using its stores as a showroom. My advice is moot if Best Buy is 33% more expensive (after shipping and handling). Or if checking out is such a horrendous and time-consuming process that it makes you want to scream. The PROCESS of buying needs to be seamless and smooth - teach me, show me how I’m really not saving that much money by buying online (truthfully, not with a bunch of hype and fake numbers), and make it drop-dead easy for me to buy. And make it fun to continue the experience after I buy.