Despite the fact that analysts seem to have been expecting it, the news this week that Best Buy is closing its eleven UK stores took me a bit aback. Not because I couldn’t see all the arguments that were being used in the discussion of the news, but because I rather like Best Buy, and I’d have liked to see it work.
Most of the reason for being fond of the brand stems from having encountered it in its native US environment when I was living in San Francisco. Over there it came as a pleasant surprise. Years earlier, I’d had a series of electrical retail experiences provided by Circuit City, and it hadn’t been pleasant. The level of service I experienced was on a par with what I’d expect from the big UK chains; barely there.
So, when someone recommended Best Buy as being a better kind of experience, I was sceptical to say the least. However, what I encountered was a revelation to someone used to living under the typical UK electrical store regime of the time.
Hello, informed staff members who understand the products! Hello, the ability to take someone’s time, explain what you need and get some considered options! And HELLO, leaving an electricals store with a product you’re happy is the right one for you based on an intelligent interaction! It was a kind of miracle. Visits to Best Buy punctuated our life in San Francisco, and we never left disappointed with either the experience or the product we bought.
So the news the brand was coming to the UK, explicitly recognising that there was a gap in the market caused by the terrible service people here were used to, cheered me up no end.
Of course, the arrival hit when we were in a period of domestic electrical stability at home, so there really weren’t many reasons to visit our nearest store, and in a sign of the problems that were to hit, that store isn’t ’near’ in the sense that the two close to central San Francisco were to both my office and home. The lack of visibility and proximity for the eleven stores they have in the UK are widely being touted as key reasons for their failure.
Another is that Best Buy’s arrival forced other businesses – the various Dixons-owned brands in particular, to up their game regarding service, and start to, well… provide some.
There are a lot of other factors which are also being cited behind the decision; the recession (inevitably), lack of brand recognition, issues with their advertising and pricing, the difficulty of differentiating on an intangible; like service. It’s a long list.
But I find I can’t be wholly surprised by the end of the brand in the UK when I think of the exchange we had in our house the day the news broke. I’ve been very aware of all the Best Buy advertising they’ve been putting out, and it’s a considerable amount, but my other half’s response to the news was “well it was quiet as the grave when I went to the Croydon one – and now I think about it, I’ve never seen a single advert for the chain anywhere.”
If even people predisposed to the brand based on positive past experience weren’t really registering it, there really wasn’t much hope.