Recently, I had the need to obtain two Toshiba convertible ultra-book computers in a hurry as the laptops they would be replacing had not only aged out but started showing signs of pending hard drive failure. Furthermore, the staff members that required the replacements were going to be out of town on business soon. I did not want them to suffer a disk crash on the road.
While I have become a sincere fan of the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 convertible laptops, Dell could not meet my timeline. Toshiba’s Satellite Radius is a solid second place for my purpose even with the specifications being very similar. Now, Toshiba couldn’t sell me their Satellite Radius with my required specs directly from the manufacturer, so said the rep I called at the number on the website. That left me to Google my requirements along with the make and model. Low and behold, Best Buy carried a model that was so close to what I needed I considered it a win. Almost, I had to verify it was in stock near me. I was ready to drive an hour or more to pick them up. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to make that drive. They were in stock 10 minutes away. I placed the $2400+ order for two laptops without blinking. I received an email shortly saying I could pick the items up in the store in 30-40 minutes. It was 6 pm already.
After meeting my wife for dinner, I made my way to Best Buy to get the new devices. Around 7:30 pm, I walked right up to the pick-up counter, gave the associate my order number, and was promptly informed the laptops had not arrived yet. After shaking off my initial shock, I inquired as to why the product needed to arrive. I was told that those laptops weren’t in stock at the store at that they were brought in by a truck on demand from a central location. She said that even though I received an email saying I could pick up the item in 30 minutes, the fine print said I needed to wait for a confirmation of arrival. I then asked if the truck was guaranteed to make it to the store before they closed for the night. She could not confirm, but urged me to wait a bit as she was pretty sure it would arrive before closing. Not exactly the reassurance for which I had hoped.
I had expected to be back at the office with the machines by 8 pm to start setting them up for their new users. However, I resigned to having to start that the next morning and used the time to look around. It got me thinking about why Best Buy is still Amazon’s showroom.
Best Buy has at least three major advantages over Amazon. Those are the physical locations, the onsite staff, and the in-store pick-up functionality. One could make the argument that the quality of inventory or at least the presence of onsite inventory is an advantage for Best Buy. I’m writing that one off as null. Amazon can get a good portion of its inventory to you next day. Some of Best Buy’s “inventory” has to be ordered and delivered to you. Next day will cost you more than Amazon’s $3.99 (for Amazon Prime members – totally worth the investment).
The stores are an advantage because you can go there and experience a product.  Sure, you can set the mood and shopping experience from the moment the customer walkers through the door, but that’s being done with a web page too. Experiencing a product is great as you can touch it, see its actual size, feel its quality, and otherwise demo the product. Video and pictures rarely beat real life. Especially when it comes to 4K televisions. Furthermore, you can buy it now it in the most immediate sense of the phrase. No waiting for shipment, just waiting in line. You can also easily return product once the feelings of gratification wear off.  Amazon has made their best efforts to get you a great experience, but manipulating a product in person is something you just can’t do on the web.
Another advantage should be the in store staff. They have the opportunity to talk to you about products and services of which you may be unfamiliar. Ideally, the staff members would be highly knowledgeable about the products in the departments they represent. This would allow you to get well-rounded answers to any questions you may have about Best Buy hosted products and services. Plus, from a business stand point, staff members should be trained to cross, complimentary, and up-sell. Amazon certainly has this down.
The last advantage Best Buy should have over Amazon is the In-Store Pickup capability. It’s pretty excellent to be able to pick a product online, buy it, then just go pick it up. No shopping around, dealing with crowds, or overzealous sales staff. Just a quick, efficient sale. I realize this isn’t a new concept. As a tech and business process guy, I can’t help but be amazed at all the pieces that have to work together to get this to work correctly. It is wonderful when it does.
That is just a short four paragraph highlight of the concept I am presenting here. I could probably write an entire book on the subject quoting from the shelves of books behind me, the cliff-notes on, and the intellectual auditory at Email me, if you’d like to present me an offer on that book. Anyway, by now, you’ve probably guessed my experience as less than idyllic.
If that was your guess, you win a soft, slow clap. This Best Buy experience, and my last to date, was typical of most big box retailers. I walked in and was ignored by the staff present by the front door. The associate at the counter was only as helpful as I made her be and only friendly enough not to illicit abuse from patrons. As I walked around, biding my time until the delivery truck arrived, I decided to see if there was any actual service in Best Buy’s customer service. I’m a normal looking guy, am not a teenager, and was dressed in business casual clothing. Most people would assume I am at the store to buy something. So let’s find out how it worked out.
My first stop was the TV section. I expect that this must be Best Buy’s backbone as the department was well staffed and the team members were friendly and knowledgeable. Music, movies, car stereos, small appliances, and large appliances were ghost towns. No one was around to help. The computer section was a more interesting story. Lots of staff in that section. I counted 8 people. I spent a good 30 minutes in this section scrutinizing equipment before anyone said hello. I did two more laps through the entire section, accessories and all, before I went to check on the status of my “in store pick-up.”
At this point, it is just short of 8:30 pm. I’m told the status of the delivery truck is unknown. I head back over to the computer section. I stand next to an associate who is standing next to a customer who is doing nothing but staring at the model of laptop I want to ask a question about. I am annoyed, ready to leave, and want to yell at someone. However, I find weird humor in the odd situation of three strangers just standing by a laptop staring at it for no reason. This probably went on for a good five minutes or more before I was asked if I needed help.
Finally, I was able to ask if the Toshiba Satellite Radius here on display with a slightly different SKU number varied much from the models I ordered online. Turns out they were identical. Rationally, you’d think the in store pick-up associate could fulfill my order with the identical stock that is onsite. However, turns out she can’t. It is against policy or the computer can’t do it. I’m not sure. I just had her cancel the order. I let the computer associate get credit for selling two laptops and left the indecisive customer looking for a different model as I got the last two in stock.
While the computer associate was friendly, his up-selling technique was weak. After I finished telling him that I was an IT manager and that these laptops were needed urgently to replace failing hardware, he gives me the standard “do you need Geek Squad support” spiel. He also tried so sell me McAfee. When I mention Avast, he promptly states that he’s never heard of it and that it might not be that good. For those readers unfamiliar with the Avast Anti-virus suite, it has ranked very highly in multiple consumer and professional tests. It always beats McAfee by leaps and bounds. Plus, any real geek knows that McAfee is the Pinto of antivirus software.
Anyway, the point of this story is that Best Buy has a golden opportunity with every customer to show why they are better than Amazon, but they don’t. My experience isn’t unusual. Best Buy has opted to go with low salary, under trained employees. Customer service is barely an afterthought. Policies for fulfilling orders aren’t well thought out. Shopping at Best Buy’ current essence reminds me of the Circuit City experience…remember them?
I also remember a time when Best Buy did have knowledgeable, well trained employees who were happy to help. I would target that period around 2000-ish. Maybe I just thought they were smart because I knew much less. Can anyone confirm the Best Buy Experience had declined significantly?

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