Reconnecting with Best Buy

The new store design is an improvement, but it’s not enough.

Photo by Stephanie Colgan
Best Buy’s “Connected” store in Richfield sets the stage for a higher level of service.

I’ve never felt quite the same kinship to Best Buy that I do to our Minnesota-based retail darling, Target—such is the cold reality of technology, I suppose. But I hate to see a hometown company struggling. So I’ve made a point to shop Best Buy’s first “Connected” store in Richfield—the prototype for a new chapter. It gives me a glimmer of hope that Best Buy can turn things around. Still, there’s much to improve.

If you haven’t yet been to the first revamped store at I-494 and Lyndale, you really should check it out—it’s fascinating to be on the home front of this retail evolution, and our reactions in Minnesota could affect Best Buy’s strategy worldwide. The change is obvious from the moment you enter the store: Large signs, lower shelves, and open space make it easy to take in the entire sales floor—even the restroom, which my 4-year-old inevitably needed within five minutes of our arrival. They’ve added a plant to make it seem homey.

Best Buy’s redesign is clearly post-Apple store, from the Genius Bar–style central help desk to the reduced number of cash stations near the doors. But those updates are superficial. Best Buy is overlooking the reasons why I purchase and service my Apple products at Apple stores. It’s details like the play table next to the Genius Bar, so I can get help while my kids are in view and occupied with iPad games. (Best Buy’s Xbox station isn’t visible from the help desk, and on my most recent store visit, it wasn’t working anyway.) Here’s the critical difference: Apple’s focus is on solutions, rather than purchases. Best Buy calls its new help desk “Solution Central,” but when I asked for advice on getting a glut of media off my old laptop, Best Buy’s Apple expert told me what products I could buy—never taking a look at my machine or walking me through simple steps to transfer video, as they did at the Apple store.

As Best Buy heads into the critical holiday season, I hope it really does focus on “solutions.” Consumers have lots of options for making purchases, but more questions than ever as far as integrating technology into our lives. Where Best Buy has its best opportunity is in considering my entire household, and there are signs of that in the amped-up household appliance section, which now features model kitchens in place of rows of white washers and dryers. I’ll think to shop Best Buy when I’m ready for a new refrigerator.

Meanwhile, a computer display table, however modern, doesn’t help me answer the real questions, such as whether we need a family computer or one just for the kids. Whether to rely on external drives or a “cloud.” What to do with the mounting gigs of photos. Instead of fighting the showrooming effect, where people come to look and then go home to order online, maybe it’s time to embrace it.

I’m picturing IKEA-style model rooms with complete technology systems so I can see how everything works in harmony. I want to sit with a Blue Shirt who is not only friendly and available but also wise, and click to order from the comfort of a sofa in the middle of the store.