Before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer electronics retailer Best Buy was in the process of enhancing its store experience by adding more digital and interactive displays as well as a slew of products in new categories, among them fitness equipment, baby technology and digital healthcare.
Stores positioned as testing grounds of new tech offer countless invitations to touch and test products, which is partly the reason Best Buy had to completely shut down its in-store operation and shift to a purely curbside pickup model at the onset of the crisis.
After figuring out how to safely allow shoppers back into its stores, the retailer once again opened its doors on June 22, bringing back about half of the 51,000 employees it had initially furloughed.
Yet the Best Buy store experience today is not what it once was or is intended to be, and e-commerce remains the retailer’s main sales driver. Online sales rose 255% in the second quarter for fiscal 2021 (ended July 18) compared to the year prior, largely attributed to purchases of computers, tablets and appliances, and remained 185% higher than the same period a year prior after stores began reopening. Overall sales increased 2.5% and were up 15% since stores reopened.
Overall, Best Buy stores were in a relative state of limbo as the retailer grappled with what to do with all of the interactive displays and how to adjust the shopper-engaging strategy that was its key differentiator pre-pandemic. It also faced other COVID-19-related headwinds including inventory issues.
The Path to Purchase Institute visited a handful of stores in Illinois, California, Florida and Texas in July and August to get a grasp on what store conditions look like since the reopening and how Best Buy’s in-store strategy has evolved or stayed the same. While store layouts vary by location, here are a few things that stood out. Institute members can view more images at P2PI.org.
- In-line displays and endcaps merchandising new games such as “Animal Crossing” and “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening,” and accessories from Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation were picked over by shoppers.
- We also found a bare area in the gaming department – due to popular demand. Best Buy’s red, branded Nintendo aisle (or dedicated endcap display, depending on the store) was virtually empty or extremely picked over at every location we visited. A small touchscreen simply communicated the interactive display as “Not in Service.” As of Aug. 10, Nintendo Switch devices were still sold out at most stores and on BestBuy.com.
- Just inside store entrances, a greeter positioned behind a podium outfitted with an acrylic shield welcomes shoppers and offers to help them find what they need. Behind the greeter, most stores merchandise mobile phones and accessories via branded boutiques from providers including Verizon and AT&T. Displays that typically encourage physical handling of product with out-of-the-box merchandising are left completely vacant at some locations, not stocking any devices.
- Immediately visible are designated spots dedicated to the one-hour contactless curbside pickup service the retailer rolled out chainwide. A-boards and other outdoor signs direct shoppers to the drive-up spot and dedicated parking spaces.
- The TV and sound bar department brings some sense of normalcy to Best Buy, as it is one area of the store that shoppers can peruse without needing to touch anything – although there are some touchscreens that continue to invite shopper interaction. Custom and oftentimes illuminated displays from LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio dominate the section.
- We spotted some contactless solutions in stores, including a tall rack sign inviting shoppers to scan different QR codes to download the Best Buy mobile app, see “Today’s Top Deals” and access My Best Buy offers. The Minnesota-based retailer continues offering its contactless curbside pickup service, scheduled in-store appointments, virtual consultations, free delivery and other digital shopping tools and resources introduced at the beginning of the pandemic.
- The pandemic has affected the way the retailer merchandises exercise equipment including treadmills and ellipticals – a relatively new category that began rolling out online and to select stores last year. Some stores had created a type of showroom for assembled and operational equipment. The areas are now outfitted with yellow signs asking shoppers to see an associate for equipment demos at some locations, while others have completely removed the equipment and taped off the merchandising area with yellow “caution” tape.