Best Buy needs to clone Micro Center, not Radio Shack

So Best Buy is planning to close 50 big-box stores, downsize others, and try to focus its efforts on selling cell phones, tablets, and e-readers.

Sounds to me like they’re trying to become Radio Shack.
I’ve talked about the store’s problems before. Tracking down a simple micro SDHC card became a 45-minute ordeal for me the last time I went there. The time before that, I went in, intending to buy a car stereo but I found the prices unimpressive and when I asked about installation, they said they’d be able to work me in sometime that week. I visited two other stores, both of which had prices that were within $10-$15 of Best Buy, installation that was more than $40 cheaper, and they were able to do the installation the same day. Even though I had a $20 Best Buy gift card in hand, it was still cheaper for me to get the stereo somewhere else, not to mention more convenient.

Part of Best Buy’s problem is that the products their huge stores were designed to house and sell don’t exist anymore. CRT televisions used to take a large percentage of the store’s floor and warehouse space. And not only were the floors full, the merchandise was stacked almost to the ceiling. And in the middle of the store, there used to be expansive areas dedicated to music, movies, and computer software. All of those are shrinking dramatically, as the market for those go increasingly digital. Those sections are no bigger today than the equivalent sections you’d find in a discount store.

Compared to the 1990s, the stores look empty.

To me, part of the answer is to find something else to sell. They’ve experimented with selling energy economy products in some stores, and to me, that’s a no-brainer. Group all of that stuff together so it’s easier to find than in a home-improvement store, and that could potentially be a good niche for them.

The problem there is that sometimes, particularly with occupancy detector switches, you’ll get home and your house wiring can’t handle it. Provide knowledgeable help and a pre-purchase checklist of things for potential buyers to look for, and you can head a lot of that off. Then again, if it takes 30 minutes to get out of the store and returning the item is as painful as an IRS audit–in other words, if Best Buy acts like Best Buy–then it won’t work.

Car audio ought to be a good niche for them, too. People are keeping their cars longer these days, and it’s often cheaper to replace one than repair one. That’s an easy sell anyway, because you can get something you lack now, whether it’s USB playback, HD radio, or satellite radio.

The problem there is that their selection isn’t very big, their prices aren’t competitive, their installation price is completely unclear, and the total price including installation and all the necessary adapters is extremely uncompetitive.

Best Buy desperately needs to send some mystery shoppers to Micro Center. They’re a regional chain that fills a big-box store adequately without feeling empty or overcrowded and provides a generous selection of a few things, along with knowledgeable help, exceptional customer service, and competitive prices. Basically they do everything right that Best Buy gets wrong.

To me, that makes more sense than trying to become Radio Shack. Especially because, if you haven’t noticed, Radio Shack isn’t exactly thriving itself, lately.

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2 Comments

  1. Microcenter Employeee

     /  April 18, 2012

    Actually, Microcenter owners are former Radio Shack types, and employ Radio Shack marketing…FRY’s is the numero uno computer retailer…

    • Dave Farquhar

       /  April 18, 2012

      I have no experience with Fry’s, as they don’t have any stores near me. I’ve had nothing but good experience at my local Micro Center though.

      I knew their management came up through Radio Shack, but the Radio Shack of today and the Radio Shack of 30 or even 20 years ago is very different. Even as recently as 1992, I was able to go into Radio Shack and get competent help at the component level. So I don’t hold that Radio Shack legacy against Micro Center.

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