Dear Best Buy,

First, congratulations on your company's many successes, including your recent decisions that helped you to weather the lock-down storm. You strike me as a company that is well-run, and I hope you will agree that every well-run company listens to its customers. So, on behalf of audio/videophiles everywhere, I am asking you – begging you – to take into account one very special need of our community.

We all remember “the good old days” when Mom and Pop hi-fi shops defined the audio/video industry. Those shops, along with record stores, cultivated loyal customers who went there to purchase, and upgrade their stereo and home theater systems. More than just retail stores, those shops provided a social fabric that allowed like-minded people to meet, share ideas, and just shoot the bull. We were dismayed as those shops disappeared. They were replaced by “big box” stores that could leverage their economies of scale to bring lower prices, but often at the cost of personalization and community. But when managed properly, even the biggest stores could still meet the single most important need of audio/videophiles.

Which brings us to Best Buy. You are perhaps the last store standing. (I see that Fry's went belly up last week and will shutter its remaining locations.) Best Buy survives, and prospers, because of its smart business decisions. Good job! As with many businesses, the pandemic has caused you to push heavily into e-commerce sales. That is understandable. But one of your recent corporate decisions make me uneasy.

I see that you are experimenting with a new store format that substantially downsizes the traditional retail floor space. For example, a 27,000 square foot store would be reduced to 15,000 square feet of retail, with the remaining space devoted to e-commerce fulfillment. In particular, I see that you have started testing this format at four Minneapolis stores, and plan to expand it to other markets. Apparently, up to a quarter of your 1,000 stores could become shipping hubs.

I completely understand your rationale; e-commerce is important to your future growth, and even survival. The reality is that it is Amazon's world now, and we are all just living in it. But your bricks and mortar stores are what sets you apart from Amazon. Your stores offer a physical presence, an opportunity to see and touch products, to talk to sales associates – things that online shopping can never provide. Your bricks and mortar stores are supremely important.

Which, at last, brings me to my point – my begging, actually. Physical locations are essential to audio/videophiles because they are the only way we can meaningfully buy our products. I can order a washing machine from an online picture and description. But I cannot meaningfully buy a soundbar, a home theater system, or a television, without listening to it and looking at it, in a bricks and mortar store.

We know that Maurice's Hi-Fi Emporium is long gone, but we still need a place to look and listen, often painstakingly comparing many different models before choosing the one that's just right. Frankly, when we can't audition audio/video products, many of us simply don't buy anything at all, and instead soldier on with our old gear. We lose, the loudspeaker manufacturer loses, and the retailer loses.

One last observation: If we lose the places to audition audio/video products, we also lose something much more. If the future is all online, consumers will buy a soundbar, take it home, and it will make sound, and they'll figure it's fine. They literally will never know if it sounds good or not because they will never have the opportunity to directly audition it against other soundbars. If consumers forget that sound and picture quality is what really matters in audio/video products, those products will be reduced to the status of washing machines, no more than commodities purchased from thumbnails on Amazon.

Please, as you downsize, keep floor space that allows us to audition audio/video products. You might be the last bricks and mortar bastion left to provide that important extra feature. I don't know if we'll buy enough to optimize profitability from the floor space, but if you don't do it, who will?

Billy's picture

I love what you are saying, but the battle has already been lost for most of us. Best Buy was born from the ashes of a small group of stores in the Twin Cities called "Sound of Music" after a tornado took out the Har Mar store and the company was going bankrupt. The ownership had a parking lot sale to clear out merchandise and it sold so quickly, more came in from the other stores, and it went fast to. The decision was made to reorganize with a new name and sell at volume at low consumer cost. (In fact, I was an old customer and was casually asked if I would be interested in investing in the new company. I laughed and wished them luck! There were many small stereo store chains in town, they in my opinion, had little chance. Boy, smart move, huh?) Problem was, while the new BB stores were big and flashy, and offered good prices, but the lacked what made the old SOM stores great. The SOM had just a few rooms. One was for testing gear, the other for speakers. Most of what they had could be tested, easy to compare different speakers on the fly. Same with amps, turntables, etc. It was all hands on, and the staff were pretty knowledgeable to help out. When was the last time you could test a pair of speakers at BB? Of course, if you have access to a Magnolia section (in bigger towns) and want to spend really big bucks on gear, you still somewhat have that option., but that is not most of us. Yes, TV displays are a little better as far as that is concerned, but even they are often stacked high, can't get a good look at them. Want a computer or cell phone? Fine, there it is a little better, but many in my generation want something more. perhaps, that is the true problem. Times are changing, and the baby Boomers are soon to be dust, and we just don't want to give up the ghost. Young people often do not care about quality anyway, so maybe Best Buy has read the tea leaves and is acting accordingly for the future consumer. if nothing else, we need a competitor for Amazon, because once BB is gone, they will raise prices worse then an oil company.

Dealzguy18's picture

Under the circumstances and Considering the future of buying, they had to do it, 5000 blue shirts let go is sad, but they have to survive. We have already too many obituaries written for Circuit City, Frys and many more regional chains. I always buy at Best Buy never Amazon or Costco.

PunchyRedcrown's picture

This is a good article and restokes our concerns around the retail outlets aiding large tech in marginalizing technology, sight, and sound as it relates to innovation. As the "last man standing" in all of this, BB certainly runs the risk of becoming the victim of their own success by mistaking the COVID induced shift to online as permanent. I think it has certainly accelerated the transition, but I also think people will again return to (the good) brick in mortar in droves. I believe the problem with Best Buy is that it has always flirted with becoming an experience but never quite got there or did it in fits and starts. Just look at the success of LuLulemon and Apple stores. When I go into BB stores, they just don't seem to have it right. I went to audition the B&W Formation Flex series over the holidays and it was disconnected and discombobulated so much so the guy couldn't come close to getting it work, while remarking this was the responsibility of the B&W rep. Really? Also, I had to ask to about Geek Squad installation services to really understand the scope of their offerings, which pleasantly surprised me by virtue of my being in the Tech club. Bottom line is they could have offered or suggested this without my having to investigate at the store. These types of things are the difference makers of how bricks and mortar add value versus going head-to-head with Amazon.
I try to balance the duality of the millennials et al relying on social media to guide their purchases while staying true to how few buttons they can click to complete their purchases with delighting the senses only a showroom can bring. As the boomers become dust, we all start to take part in read the reviews and click the "Buy" button. But there is still something to be said for going into a well-lit store, seeing the 85" tv's, auditioning the latest sound equipment, etc. There is still a good business proposition around the mass brick and mortar presence, especially when you're the only game in town. Walking in for a thumb drive and walking out with a new computer, tablet, watch, warranty, etc. comes to mind.
Electronic online sales in my mind contributes to the demise of better innovative technology in A/V (and I'm not talking about better Alexa integration, etc) because companies then only need not produce the worst widget in the store or let their ratings drop below about 4.5 starts. For example look at blue tooth speakers- they all work and sound about the same give or take. And by going this route BB helps this along thank you very much. To me, if Best Buy were to get the experience piece right (like the Apple Store), they might not have to compete with Amazon on their turf and terms. They better invent one heck of a value proposition with their shift in strategy is all I'm saying.

Traveler's picture

For all but the most snobbish buyers there's there's really little difference between major manufactures any more. I bought my current set at BB and honestly. I couldn't tell any difference between sets at the same price point so I bought based of general reliability reputation (and that's based on hearsay, there probably isn't much actual difference).