GETTING MORE TALE #457: Making the Best Buy
(Or, making lemonade from lemons)
In Getting More Tale #326, we lamented that the once-mighty retail chain Best Buy isn’t what it used to be. This time, we’ll take a look back at the store’s history.
Who doesn’t love those fact-filled Uncle John’s books and calendars? Here’s the entry for December 2 2015. Before reading this I had no idea, nor did I really care how Best Buy started. Uncle John changed my tune:
Back at the Record Store days in the early 2000’s, the Boss was bracing for a new Best Buy store to open nearby. He figured that we’d probably feel some short term pain, but in the long term the store should draw more customers to the area and we’d benefit from their presence. He also strongly encouraged us not to shop there, a big US chain edging into our turf.
I tried to avoid shopping there at first, but the convenience was too much to resist. When I needed printer ink, computer supplies, or a new movie release, they were right there, and they usually had everything I came in for. That made it hard to avoid. I still tried to shop locally — I remember making special trips to Steve’s TV in Frederick Mall to buy the Star Wars trilogy on DVD. Between big items like TV sets, and small ones like candy, I know I have easily spent thousands of dollars at our local Best Buy stores. They also had hard to find items, such as the rare ZZ Top box set that came in a little box shaped like a barbecue shack (Chrome, Smoke & BBQ). The guilt felt for shopping a big US conglomerate was tempered by the savings and convenience.
That was then. As mentioned in chapter #326, Best Buy took a serious dump a few years ago. Still, a few weeks back, I had the chance to stop by one with my friend and sometimes contributor, Thussy. We had an hour to kill before a work dinner, so we popped into Best Buy, prepared to spend money if they had something we wanted. We spent an hour in the store, but no dollars.
The one thing I would have bought would have been the new Adele CD, 25, for my mom. (Yes, it’s for my mom.) I know Best Buy pretty much cut audio CDs from their stores completely, but hey, it’s Adele. Worth a try, right? Even my grocery store has the new Adele. Best Buy did not have the new Adele. I wasn’t really surprised.
We were tempted by some of their blu-ray deals. We saw a reissue of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I have already bought thrice, no more no less, over the years: VHS, DVD, and special edition DVD. This new version was a blu-ray, with the same features as the DVD, but a neat little castle set and plastic animals to catapult over it. Very tempting indeed. But both of us said no. We survived their $7.99 cheapie blu-ray bin without spending a penny. The only thing that was almost a serious temptation was that new remote controlled Star Wars Sphero BB-8 toy. It was $180, and it is definitely a neat little toy. But what the hell was I going to do with it? With a big record shopping excursion in Toronto on my horizon, the $180 would be better saved.
It was a pleasant trip to Best Buy, and we marvelled at all the new televisions and gadgets. We were asked by one pleasant employee if we needed any help, and only once, which is exactly how you want it.
Best Buy, what happened to you? Obviously, their story didn’t end with opening 1000 superstores. They continued to grow, by acquiring other electronics and music retail chains, such as Sam Goody. Their presence in Canada was felt in 2001, when they bought out our own, similar chain: Future Shop. That’s when they began horning in on our territory, and freaking out the Boss. They continued to expand and acquire, and their services such as the Geek Squad became household names. It seems this is where Best Buy and I parted ways, as they focused more and more on electronics, and less on the media that I often came in for. They bought mobile phone stores and services, and became the first non-Apple distributor of the iPhone in 2008. Phones, game consoles and tech support took over the spaces once designated for music. Meanwhile online, Best Buy’s on-demand movies, improved web sales services, and quick delivery began to dominate. I bought my laptop online, and it was at my door to me a few days later in the post. Around 2010 however their sales began to dip, but Best Buy shed some weight in order to continue to survive.
It just hasn’t happened with much of my help.
This year, Best Buy’s Canadian acquisition Future Shop bit the dust. I hadn’t done much shopping there lately either, for the same reasons as above. The two stores were all but identical, and sometimes existed side by side! It was no wonder they shut their doors. Others re-opened under the Best Buy banner, but it was a major hit for the company.
I think Best Buy will continue to exist, but as online ordering and home delivery becomes the norm, I think the stores will be able to shrink in size and survive. Large items like televisions might remain in-store for customers to try out, or to pick up after ordering online. Small items like movies might be phased out altogether, since Amazon’s own home delivery is the king of convenience.
I will continue to watch Best Buy, and sure, I’ll be cheering from the sidelines. I would very much like to buy something cool at a great price from them again, some day.