This nugget from a recent MSP Business Journal story on Best Buy got me thinking:

Best Buy does have a lot of room for transformation: The chain is pressured by same-store sales declines and online competitors, such as Amazon.com, that have capitalized on “showrooming,” consumers who check out goods in stores then buy online.

But CEO Hubert Joly thinks that the showrooming threat is overstated, and apparently [new CFO Sharon] McCollam agrees, telling Reuters that customers don’t fall in love with websites. Physical stores with a strong online practice have a better shot of winning loyalty.

I think Joly and McCollam are right that showrooming isn’t that big of a deal. Sure, some people may walk into a store to check something out before purchasing it online from one of Best Buy’s competitors, but that’s probably not the biggest reason Best Buy’s sales are lagging. The bigger problem is that people aren’t coming into their stores in the first place.

In fact, a bigger problem than “showrooming” for Best Buy may be “reverse showrooming”. As in, people who research a purchase online then come into a Best Buy store to make their purchase.

For example, one of my last trips into a Best Buy store was to buy a GPS as a last-minute gift. I hopped on Amazon.com to research GPS units and found one with the features I was looking for at a price I found reasonable. Since this was a last-minute purchase, I then turned to Best Buy’s website to see if they carried the same model. They did.

So, I hopped in my car, drove to the Roseville Best Buy store, and walked directly to the GPS display. I couldn’t grab-and-go my pre-researched purchase (with a slightly higher price than Amazon) because their GPS stock was behind a locked cabinet. The first blue-shirt I tracked down didn’t have a key to the cabinet so he had to track down someone who did.

“I’m trying to give you money but you’re making it hard for me” moments like this make me question why I came into the store in the first place.

The blue-shirt asked me what I was looking for so I told him. He then tried to upsell me to higher priced models that allow for updates to the route data over time, which is a fairly worthless feature for most people because they’ll lose, break, get sick of, or switch to a GPS phone before they ever upgrade their GPS’ maps.

Then the key master arrived and unlocked the cabinet. It turns out that the model I was looking for was out of stock. This was not noted on the display model, which could have saved myself and two Best Buy employees some time.

“I’m trying to give you money but you’re making it hard for me” moments like this make me question why I came into the store in the first place.

It wasn’t for a lack of looking. The blue shirts spent a good amount of time looking through their concealed inventory (websites don’t do that to people). The key master then started explaining to me why I’d be better off with a most costly model that allows for updates to the route data over time (heard this before?).

I grabbed the closest model in features and price to what I had planned to buy (based on the sides of the boxes rather than Amazon reviews), bought it, and made a mental note to avoid getting into situations like this in the future.

Maybe I’m a difficult customer? I doubt Amazon thinks so. They seem to know how to make my credit card smoke.

The challenge for Best Buy is that tons of Best Buy customers across the country have gone through similar “reverse showrooming” experiences. What starts out as a really good online “showrooming” experience on Amazon falls apart when people optimistically leave their homes to scratch their technology itch at Best Buy rather than waiting the 48 hours it would take Amazon to get a product to their doorstep for free.

Can a Person Love a Website?

The scariest thing in those two paragraphs is McCollam’s comment about people not falling in love with websites. Here’s the full quote from Reuter’s:

“I do not believe that people fall in love with websites,” McCollam said. “When you try to create affinity with a customer, no doubt you will be more successful with bricks and clicks than you will ever be with just clicks.”

This may actually be somewhat true for the types of products sold by Williams-Sonoma where actually seeing and touching the product may play a larger role in the purchase process. But, people really do love websites. Take a look at Google Trends for “I love _____”:

Love for Etsy is on track to surpass Best Buy. Etsy is not a “physical store with a strong online practice.”

Love for Ebay dwarfs Best Buy. Ebay is not a “physical store with a strong online practice.”

As long as Best Buy’s leadership isn’t convinced that people can love a website they probably won’t devote the kind of resources needed to create a website people can fall in love with.

How and where are people researching electronics?

When a person considers a new electronics purchase in 2012, do they think “I think I’ll head on down to Best Buy, sit at a left turn signal that takes forever to change (then wait because the person at the front of the line is on their phone and hasn’t noticed that it’s finally green, navigate through a gigantic parking lot to park, dodge cars while walking to a store through heat, rain, or slush, only to receive marginal information on products compared to what I can find on Amazon in the comfort of my own home.”? That person exists, but they’re not who Best Buy needs to reach to turn things around.

Somehow, Best Buy needs to make the experience better for the “reverse showrooming” crowd so it’s worth visiting a store to satisfy their purchase decision faster than the web can, or convince them to make their purchase on BestBuy.com.