The press hasn’t been kind to Best Buy during its debut year in the UK.
It arrived a year late, during a very tough period for retail, and as a result has suffered financial losses and senior management departures.
It’s not exactly been the spectacular start many expected from the multi-billion dollar US retail giant.
But the firm is still on track to open the number of stores it promised for its first year, and the company believes that launching in such a difficult market has helped it become the best it can be.
“You can’t help hearing of Best Buy and thinking of the US business,” says Rob Wilkins, the retailer’s head of home theatre and entertainment.
“There have been high expectations, but customers absolutely love the in-store experience we provide.
“The market has been difficult. We had clear objectives in what we wanted to achieve, and we just have to work that bit harder to make sure we achieve them.
“We are very fortunate in that we can get feedback from our customers and Blue Shirts [store staff] to find out how we can improve. In hindsight, launching in a hard time has been the best thing. It makes you think about every square foot you have got and whether it is relevant to the customer.
“I believe we have had a massive impact on the UK market already in terms of how we have structured our stores and approached the last 12 months.”
BEST’S FOOT FORWARD
When MCV first visited Best Buy on the eve of its UK launch, we met with Marc Spence, the entertainment category manager. Less than a year later and Spence has gone, while the entertainment department has been merged with home theatre. Was this a simple cost saving measure?
“We have learnt a lot about the UK, about the UK consumer and how they shop for electricals,” continues Wilkins.
“We have integrated gaming into the home theatre area of our stores, and the merger of those two domains has been largely driven by the feedback we have had.
“The team within entertainment is the same size it has always been – about six people. But it now links to the home theatre side, too. What we are trying to do at head office is the same as what we are trying to do in-store. Use the skills of those within home theatre to work closely with entertainment.
“The total amount of resource has increased by about 20 per cent. It has been a big investment in terms of labour but it’s the right thing to do.”
The idea is part of Best Buy’s HACCS strategy (Hardware, Accessories, Content, Connections and Services), which is in action throughout its new store in Hayes, West London. There are PS3s under the latest HD and 3D TVs, with Blu-ray movies sitting besides them.
This, Wilkins says, is why the firm has integrated its home theatre and entertainment teams.
POWER OF GAMES
Despite being, primarily, an electricals retailer, Best Buy has invested significant resource into games. The in-store space dedicated to gaming is far larger than the likes of Dixons and even the supermarkets.
There’s pre-owned, own-brand accessories and large areas devoted to just playing games. Best of all, the gaming department is at the front of the store. Ahead of the computers, the washing machines, even the 3D TVs.
“We have tried gaming in several parts of the store, and we decided that the right thing to do was to put it right at the front,” adds Wilkins.
“We want to give the section some real focus at the front of the store, to draw the customers in and give them something fun to do.
“Our entertainment division is different and the way we talk to customers is different. Gaming and movies are important because it is what customers want to do with our products. I think it underpins our overarching business strategy.
“We want them to come in and have fun and experience the consoles. That is one of the great reasons why people buy hardware.
“Entertainment is the traffic driver into our business.”
Indeed, gaming now has a major role to play in the future of Best Buy’s UK adventure. And whether or not the retailer can banish the memory of its difficult first year.