Best Buy: Death by Anti-Social Salesperson?
The clumsy salesperson is someone who has bothered all of us, I would bet. He’s bothered me before, when the customer service rep helping me with a billing problem with Time Warner Cable in New York unveiled himself as a stealth salesperson who tried to sell me on a data package, a cable tv package (even though I don’t own a TV), and, I don’t know, maybe even dentistry services. I stopped listening and ended the call.
The clumsy salesperson really pissed off this Forbes writer, who uses his friend’s interaction with a young sales pup trying to sell a TV services package into one of the reasons he thinks Best Buy is going out of business.
What happens when one bad experience, and a bunch of data that are really not about the shopping experience lead a blogger to forecast the downfall of a retail electronics giant?
What you get is a revelation that is certainly very true — the pivot from offline only selling to online selling, and all the engineered components of making that work well, is jarring and hard to manage.
But, are we seeing Best Buy go bankrupt? Or are we seeing not just a switch in Best Buy, but a pivot of the entire market?
Here’s Larry Downes’ thought graf on the subject:
With the flop of 3D televisions and the expansion of Apple’s own retail locations, there was no killer product on the horizon that would lift it [Best Buy] from the doldrums. Though the company accounts for almost a third of all U.S. consumer electronics purchases, analysts noted, the company remains a ripe target for more nimble competitors.
This idea works on the premise that Best Buy needs something like a product in order to make it a successful cmopany. But it’s an electronics retail store. It should be neutral. Or, should it?
Downes does have a very good point. Apple has stores, and Apple has its own products. They have a loyal following of consumers who — if we are using the Jobs to be done approach to busienss thinking — are hiring Apple to do emotional jobs for them in their professional and personal lives.
Does Best Buy have that? Downes is arguing that it should be their service that does this, and he thinks that they are not doing so well with their service to customers.
Chris Spiek, partner at The Re-Wired Group, tackled this and other foibles in the article in a recent Quora question about Best Buy, called “Will Best Buy Go Out of Business?” Spiek approaches the topic with the assertion that Best Buy has a very long way to go before bankruptcy, and that they actually have a market on offering a good sales experience. E-commerce, which one might think would be threatening to Best Buy, can’t do that job of selecting what a consumer needs as readily as a person.
I’ve been doing some work in the ecommerce space, trying to get a better understanding of how people shape up a desired outcome as they shop online.
It’s very interesting to see how people gather information from various sources, and refine their expectations as they shop. It also points out the important role that a salesperson can play in the process when it comes to making discrete trade-offs that we don’t always want to make, “Is it more important to you that you get super-sharp 18MP images, or that you can take your camera with you everywhere you go?”
As much as the ecommerce space is growing, it would seem that for certain categories/products and certain consumers, Best Buy would still have an advantage when it comes to helping consumers shape up exactly what they expect to achieve by purchasing a product, and then helping them find the right product for the job.
The obviously assumes that they can get the salesperson management/training portion of the business under control.
Going back to Larry Downes, something is ignored in his retelling of the customer experience he had with his friend at Best Buy — namely, how Downes and his friend treat the experience. They didn’t offer much to the young man who was trying to help them. They didn’t offer much about how they already view salespeople, which is, arguably, a bias that would infect any kind of interaction in that space. We always bring our assumptions into the conversation, and sometimes those assumptions preclude what is really happening.
They took his interaction with them as some kind of accosting, some kind of infringement on their right to browse thoughtfully. We have talked about this before. Men shop differently than women, and introverts — both men and women — do not shop very well. Introverts get all fussy when people ask them questions that “do not compute.”
But first, why I think the question and the answer are interesting.
1. They are both interesting because this question and the revelatory answer show how shopping is not really ever a transactional process, so our ideas of “value” for the consumer are really off. The process is really more like a negotiation: Person A brings into the store and the shopping experience a set of unspoken and non-linear values about himself or herself.
2. The answer reveals the rich context of this particular consumer, but it goes a far way to show how often the information a sales person has is admittedly way off when it comes to “why” the person is actually shopping. The sales person is getting all of his ideas about value and need not from the consumer, but from a training manual and the store’s quota system.
3. All that being said, there is a non-social element to shopping, in that nobody in this experience actually knows or cares to intimate what is actually going on in the other person’s head — either the shopper or the sales person.
Where has Best Buy gotten the job of being sensitive to their shoppers done?
They have done it with the Twelpforce, one of the most ingenious uses of social media to help the shopping experience.
And they have had to. According to Jalak Jobanputra, this is only the beginning of a radical transformation in how people shop and commune online.
And we wrote earlier this week about how Scott Thompson’s arrival at Yahoo! signals a tidal change in how Yahoo! will approach content and shift towards being a social marketplace and e-commerce play.
Downes, we think, would tacitly agree:
For brick-and-mortar retailers, however, the shift was jarring. Moving online required new thinking, new management structures, and new strategies. It would also require integrated front and back-end information systems. Customers would expect inventory to be transparent between the web and the stores, and that specials and “exclusives” would be consistent across all channels. Whatever attributes they associated with a retailer’s brand—whether price, quality, convenience, expertise, service—would need to be translated to the online experience and enhanced.
To compete successfully against new online retailers, traditional retailers would also need to find ways to transform the expensive liabilities of physical locations with limited hours and high labor and inventory costs into assets that complemented rather than competed with the online experience.
We think that Best Buy is shifting. As Chris Spiek says, “It’s very interesting to see how people gather information from various sources, and refine their expectations as they shop. It also points out the important role that a salesperson can play in the process when it comes to making discrete trade-offs that we don’t always want to make.”
Best Buy will make progress in this Twelpforce model, because it allows more people to interact with Best Buy that is more consumer-driven. It’s not a salesperson rushing up trying to sell something. It’s a consumer tweeting to the BestBuy that they need help with something.
In an increasingly mobile world, that experience may likely begin happening in the store.