Best Buy offers a new way to shop with its first-ever digital-first small box store

Discussion
Renderings: Best Buy
Jul 26, 2022

Best Buy is today opening a new digital-first, small box store concept that it believes will change the way consumers shop for the products it sells.

The new 5,000-square-foot store, located in Monroe, NC, features a curated selection of “best-on-category products” in audio and home theater, cameras, cellphones, computing, small appliances, smart home tech and wearables.

Shoppers entering the store are greeted by a seven-foot digital display that will explain how to shop.

Most of the products on display in the store are there just for that — display. Shoppers can test how a product works and, if they decide to buy, simply scan the QR code on the item’s price tag. An order is then sent to the store’s Blue Shirts who pick it up in the backroom and bring it to the register for the purchase to be completed.

The store also features some grab-and-go items such as cell phone cases, charging cables and gift cards. Customers with the Best Buy app can scan an item’s barcode and use mobile self-checkout to make a purchase.

The traditional Best Buy customer experience is often defined by the experience of working with the chain’s Blue Shirt associates to get questions answered. Customers in the new store will have that option or they can shop live with an expert from Best Buy’s virtual store. This can be done via call, text chat or video chat while shopping in the store.

Best Buy CEO Corie Barry, last August, announced that the retailer was piloting a virtual store in the lead-up to the 2021 Christmas selling season.

“We are building out a physical store in one of our distribution centers that will have merchandising and products and will be staffed by dedicated associates, including vendor-provided expert labor, but it will have no physical customers,” Ms. Barry said at the time. “Instead, customers can interact with our experts via chat, audio, video and screen sharing depending on their preference and be able to see live demos, displays and physical products.”

Best Buy has been testing a variety of store concepts, including outlet stores. The chain earlier this year said it would open four new outlets this summer to its 16 existing locations as it moved toward its goal of doubling the number of outlets by the end of 2023.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect customers to respond favorably to the shopping experience offered in Best Buy’s new small format store in Monroe, NC? How likely is the chain to migrate some of this experience to its bigger box stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"This is exactly what retailers should be doing — meeting their customers where and how they want to shop."
"This sounds like a similar version of their current stores but with less friction."
"I wonder if the more interesting experiment here is in the virtual shop-along assistance."

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33 Comments on "Best Buy offers a new way to shop with its first-ever digital-first small box store"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is a dramatic shift from what a typical Best Buy shopping experience feels like. And while this small store concept will resonate with some shoppers, others may feel put off by the lack of frontline engagement. Also, relying on vendor provided labor makes me concerned that Best Buy will lose some control over the shopper experience.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Many of you won’t recognize this format. Some of us do. It’s the late Service Merchandise model of the ’70s. Had Service Merchandise understood the power of computerization, they would have survived, just like Best Buy has survived. The trick in execution is going to be maintaining an in-stock position and, as in airport luggage carousels; get it to the customer fast! A walk down memory lane….

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

You just triggered a core memory of the Service Merchandise store we used to go to as kids with our parents in the early ’80s. This is not a new model at all. It’s just a digitized version of the micro fulfillment center.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

We tried to tell Service Merchandise how they could improve many of their processes with (then comparatively crude) technology. It would have been like letting a kid loose in a candy store, or a “fertile field of opportunity.” Alas, they didn’t get it. They didn’t do it. They died.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Yes indeed! Another case of retail Darwinism and how Service Merchandise refused to evolve with the changing times.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I was thinking the same thing!

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Remembering Best Products back in the day.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

A Service Merchandise redo was exactly what came to my mind. I’m hoping that BBY will do a better job of getting the product to customers quickly. Out-of-stocks and lengthy waits won’t be tolerated.

David Slavick
BrainTrust

Spot on Bob! That was exactly what I was thinking about as I read the store concept recap. In-stock is key. See my post here … terrible experience over past two weeks.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Ripped directly from Apple stores, I do think the smaller, new concept has tremendous upside for Best Buy. The key measure for success or failure will depend heavily on associate’s expertise, customer service training and problem solving cycle time. If shoppers can walk in/walk out in an expeditious manner with feelings of high satisfaction, then this concept will fly. Otherwise, it will be back to the drawing board for Ms. Barry and her leadership.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

This is a positive move and forward-thinking strategy from Best Buy. And this is exactly what retailers should be doing — meeting their customers where and how they want to shop.

Testing a digital-first shopping experience is smart and relevant for a category like electronics, where shoppers may need more guidance in what to select.

We have all been disappointed with trying to find the best headphones or the right iPhone case when buying online — this experience removes the guesswork.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

This is the old Service Merchandise model. It’ll be interesting to see if it works in the 21st cenutury.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

We surveyed over 2,500 people (US) about 4 years ago on the idea of a showroom store and for CE in particular with spectacular results, so, this is going to work. Point is, if we knew that, BBY had to have known as well, which then begs the question; what took so long? Such an obvious test should’ve been executed, de-bugged and rolled out by now, reducing space (cost), improving fulfillment and making it easier for customers and modern shopping in general. Does not bode well for them to be so far behind, IMO; too focused on short term thinking is the message.

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

Showrooming isn’t new, but kudos to beta-testing new format that meet the needs of the customer post-pandemic. The customer has more of a digital mindset so perhaps the engagement will elevated because people usually want to walk into a store and be greeted by a person, not a 7′ digital panel.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

So, the first new Best Buy store is essentially a Google/Apple/Amazon 4 Star store concept, and the second is a website on steroids where shoppers connect with store associates digitally?

E-commerce customers will love the digital version, provided sales help is quick, smart and efficient, and the retail world will herald the new small store concept as amazing and new. Given the choice to visit a “best in category” location vs a full blown Best Buy store, I am betting most brick and mortar shoppers will choose the latter. Consumers are exhausted; they just want a consistent shopping experience with a generous, in-stock assortment and great service.

Scott Norris
Guest

Took my 16-year old daughter to a regular Best Buy on a Saturday night a few weeks ago as she wanted to look at and try gaming accessories. Back in the day that would have been a fun night out, looking through videos and music and playing with different console game systems. That’s all but gone now. It was as quiet as a dentist’s waiting room and we were the only customers in line at the checkout. So yes, we might as well collapse the space and make all the inventory same/next day deliverable, because it’s no fun to walk around in a big box anymore.

David Slavick
BrainTrust

The BBY shopping experience has been unexciting for 20 years. I used to take both of my children to the store and we would spend half of our time shopping for music and new release videos. Then go over to the high-end component area in the back of the store and turn up the music with hard rock. They might as well down size as the productivity on a per square foot basis has to be killing them. That and the MyBestBuy reward program is weak at best.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The new Best Buy small format store is a new concept for the brand. However, consumers have enjoyed the smaller scaled stores that Apple and other DTC brands have been leading with for years. This showroom-like concept is far from new and has been part of the industry for a decade, well before the digital and mobile accelerations.

This new operating model for Best Buy will resonate with the customers who prefer little to no human interaction. These customers are purpose-driven, have the knowledge they need about their products, and want to view the product and have it fulfilled with minimal friction. The ability to touch and feel the product is a differentiator, especially for personal electronics.

It will be interesting to see how far this scales for Best Buy and how this plays out.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Showrooming brought to life! I see very little downside for the shopper, but wonder if they will find it appealing. It will be interesting to see how people react and I will be watching closely.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Hmmmm… That’s my best response. I’m typically not a big fan of any process that adds friction to a customer transaction, regardless of whether it’s in-store or online. On the surface this seems to add some friction as I have to navigate a process and get a blue shirt to intervene in every transaction. On the other hand, when I shop Best Buy for a big ticket item, I typically look to have a conversation with a blue shirt about options, features etc. In that scenario I want intervention to help me make up my mind. I’m not sure that this process doesn’t do the exact opposite of that.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Down memory lane with Best Products and Service Merchandise, as many other panelists have mentioned. (Maybe those of us at a certain age…) The concept is certainly viable in today’s drive to develop small format stores for more flexible locations, on top of the operating efficiencies involved in the model. Some customers will still look for the full-blown assortments of a Best Buy prototype, but many others will appreciate the work of curation being done for them.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
15 days 25 minutes ago

Seems that small format today has two options. A traditional store with reduced sets of goods or a look and order store like this. Target has made the first work. Last I checked, the look and order stores haven’t worked and I’m not surprised. There are so many compromises to the Best Buy experience in what’s described here that I can’t imagine most customers liking the experience.

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust

It’s an ok idea that could have easily launched years ago. However, I still think it’s too early to scale. There aren’t many consumer electronics stores where you can see a large assortment of options “live.” Part of the compelling experience of Best Buy for me is to wander the assortment and look at my options. Doing this in a smaller store will require them to have a pulse on (1) the right curation (2) not too narrow so a shopper thinks their choices are limited.

I wonder if the more interesting experiment here is in the virtual shop-along assistance. Imagine walking through a new TV with a remote agent in Iowa who is lending her expertise from her home. If shoppers warmed to that concept, not only could it help Best Buy, it could help other retailers that need expertise (THD, etc) and overcome the labor hurdle.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
14 days 23 hours ago

This sounds like a similar version of their current stores but with less friction. Any big ticket items at Best Buy already require an associate to go pick them up from lock boxes. Rather than having to track down an employee, the QR code scanning trims that whole process down. Their customers are already used to requesting access to items, just a new method now. This will likely prove much more efficient for all.