March 20, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Best Buy thinks outside the big box

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
Best Buy wonders whether you'd want to take home a defibrillator along with your copy of "Project Gotham Racing 3."

In several concept stores located in the Midwest, Best Buy is gathering data about consumer behavior in retail outlets that are quite different from the "big box" stores normally associated with America's largest consumer electronics retailer. The new stores, with names like Eq-life, Studio d and Escape, are helping Best Buy understand how to improve the shopping experience of a new class of technology buyers.

Eq-life is about a year old, while Studio d and Escape have been up and running for about a year and a half, said Dawn Bryant, a Best Buy spokeswoman. Eq-life sells "health and wellness technology products" such as heart defibrillators for home use, she said. Studio d focuses on women looking to learn more about technology products such as digital cameras or notebook PCs, while Escape is filled with flashy video games and powerful electronics.

"We want to learn more about customers and what they like to buy. That information feeds how we serve customers in our other Best Buy stores," Bryant said. Eq-life and Studio d are not publicized as Best Buy affiliates, but Escape does note that its products are supplied by Best Buy.

Consumer electronics are starting to appeal to different types of customers than they did even five or 10 years ago, said Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, which focuses on technology retailers. For one thing, the industry has recognized that women are a driving force behind technology purchases and that traditional marketing strategies don't necessarily appeal to them, he said.

Retailers believe that women want to understand how a technology product works and fits into their homes before they take it home, Baker said, leading to interest in stores such as Studio d that focus on education and a more personal sales approach. Studio d, in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Ill., schedules classes and one-on-ones focused mostly on the digital camera, in hopes of creating "an experiential environment around preserving memories," Bryant said.

Escape, on the other hand, is going after the customer most retailers covet: the young male video gamer. Most retailers believe this customer spends more money than the average technology buyer and is obsessed with whatever is new and cool, Baker said. Best Buy has to know what this type of customer wants to entice that customer into a Best Buy store, and it can experiment with different strategies at Escape's Chicago store, he said.

Eq-life appears ready to cash in on the needs of aging baby boomers for health products and services, such as pedometers, massages, and yes, personal defibrillators. It has three locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Web sites have become the preferred channel for many technology shoppers. But Best Buy, Circuit City and Wal-Mart Stores are still making money on consumers who want to see technology in person before buying it. The idea behind stores like Studio d and Eq-life is to find out how to keep people coming back to retail by offering an experience that can't be duplicated online, and one that's different from typical large retailers.

Over the last nine to 10 months, Circuit City has been testing out some ideas that would appeal to specific types of customers in stores located in South Florida and Boston, said Amanda Tate, a company spokeswoman. She declined to comment further on what the company had in mind with those new stores.

The idea of taking instructional classes for technology products appealed to Gigi de Guzman, a shopper interviewed while browsing at a San Francisco Best Buy store. "I signed up for Home Depot classes, so why not?" she said. Home Depot offers how-to classes on things like installing tile or gardening that appeal to some women otherwise turned off by Home Depot's warehouse shelves filled with lumber and tools.

Simple ideas like educational classes or in-store tutorials would improve the customer experience in stores like Best Buy, de Guzman said. She recalled visiting a technology store in New York that used a touch screen flat-panel display to let potential customers walk their way through product features and specifications, which beat trying to track down a salesperson.

Best Buy can take the feedback from its experimental stores and make subtle changes to the way it displays products in its flagship stores. For example, the store could place external hard drives or wireless networking products next to digital cameras to create a photo archiving center.

"Not everything is applicable or transferable, but you try to roll out as much as you can into the big stores," Baker said.

 
Correction: This article misstated the length of time that Best Buy's Studio d and Escape stores have been open. They opened about one-and-a-half years ago.

See more CNET content tagged:
Stephen Baker, Best Buy Co. Inc., retailer, consumer electronics, store

42 comments

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Add your comment
Pragmatic Management
I admire Best Buy for the excellence of its selection and its pragmatic, middle of the road management.
BUT, Best Buy, due to its excellence, is so busy that buying on line is the better alternative.
New subject: I have discovered buying "refurbished" merchandise, and the savings are terrific. But nobody seems to be prominently advertising what I want in the way of a camera phone: at least five megapixels and, when Verizon gets around to it, a Razr with internet connection and software.
Posted by vonrochow40 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Changes Need to Occur
Best Buy needs to get away from it's HR practice of shoving IT pros out the door after age 39 (or 49 or whatever).

Back to Verizon: Nothing I would like better than to obtain the internet kit WITH the new phone (rather than an item that must be purchased seperately) along with a plan that let me use minutes for voice, data or whatever at the same rate I'm paying now (shared 1,000 minutes a month).

Maybe by the next time I re-up, they will have this, or Revol will.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Pragmatic Management
I admire Best Buy for the excellence of its selection and its pragmatic, middle of the road management.
BUT, Best Buy, due to its excellence, is so busy that buying on line is the better alternative.
New subject: I have discovered buying "refurbished" merchandise, and the savings are terrific. But nobody seems to be prominently advertising what I want in the way of a camera phone: at least five megapixels and, when Verizon gets around to it, a Razr with internet connection and software.
Posted by vonrochow40 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Changes Need to Occur
Best Buy needs to get away from it's HR practice of shoving IT pros out the door after age 39 (or 49 or whatever).

Back to Verizon: Nothing I would like better than to obtain the internet kit WITH the new phone (rather than an item that must be purchased seperately) along with a plan that let me use minutes for voice, data or whatever at the same rate I'm paying now (shared 1,000 minutes a month).

Maybe by the next time I re-up, they will have this, or Revol will.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Studio d
I think this is a great idea, however, I feel that you need to better train your sales staff when selling electronic equipment to women. Recently I purchased a PC at one of your stores, but almost changed my mind due to the sales person that was trying to assist me. He kept pushing a particular machine which I did not want because it did not meet the speed and memory that I was looking for. He asked what I was going to be using it for and about what anti-virus software I use. When I replied one of them installed on my system, he states thats the worst one you can have. I am a computer programmer, which I stated to him, and I research my software and hardware before purchasing. I told him I would prefer to look around by myself before deciding and walked away. When I returned to the computer department, I heard him giving the same speech to another customer. Does your computer sales staff have any experience in computers? Degree? Background? From what I seen I have my doubts. I did purchase a system that fits my needs from another sales person who was very friendly and helpful.
Posted by gjbieber (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
dude, do you have a clue?
If you're a programmer, best buy doesn't have what you need.

build your own machine at newegg.com!

sheesh
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Link Flag
Probably did have a Degree: This is the Problem
Long ago stores quit hiring geeks who know what they were talking about. Instead, they hire kids fresh out of college, with a degree, wet behind the ears, who look good, and interview well.

Watching some of these retail operations is rather like watching a cross between a brokerage firm ("let's slap a little lipstick on this pig, and call it a date") and The Apprentice (wherein NONE of the "Project Managers" are even slightly aware of what a PMP is, not have the background to obtain same).

I have a soft spot in my heart for Pyrinex and SCC Distribution (as they have local warehouses), but Newegg is a good suggestion. Unless you need a laptop, then Sager or WinBook.

L
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Geeks don't make good salesmen....
I once worked at the local Best Buy. I was hired for their techbench, then moved to sales 2 weeks later when they didn't have enough money for me in that department. I'm not a salesman, and I told them this several times, but they went and put me out there anyway.

I was assigned to the cameras and camcorders department because they wanted someone who could tell people the relationship between digital cameras and computers. Of course, the sales training sucked bad. Watch some videos and you're all set. Yeah, right! Anyway, the guys in the computer department would always pull me over there to talk to some customer, and answer any technical questions. Many times I caught the guys trying to sell computers that weren't a match for the customers. Sometimes they needed more in a system, but more times than not, the system the customer was being sold was too much system for them, and I'd end up selling them a cheaper system. Of course, I had several "talks" about my "sales performance" with my supervisors, where I'd yet again remind them I was not a saleman.

Finally, they put back at the techbench after 7 months of hell on the sales floor. 3 weeks later I found a better job, and blew that joint. There's still one guy in the computer department that knows me. We'll say hi to each other and all, and he might ask me if I need something, then go about his business.

On a different note, I recently bought a laptop at Circuit City. The kid that was originally helping got a little on the pushy side before I told him I used to build and repair laptops. Heh, his whole tune changed and he finally just let me look on my own. Of course, I had to get approval from my significant other, but she and I agreed on the same laptop and we love it, without it being sold to us by a "salesman." Go figure.

Any product worth getting will sell itself, no sales pitch needed.
Posted by fireball74 (80 comments )
Link Flag
Studio d
I think this is a great idea, however, I feel that you need to better train your sales staff when selling electronic equipment to women. Recently I purchased a PC at one of your stores, but almost changed my mind due to the sales person that was trying to assist me. He kept pushing a particular machine which I did not want because it did not meet the speed and memory that I was looking for. He asked what I was going to be using it for and about what anti-virus software I use. When I replied one of them installed on my system, he states thats the worst one you can have. I am a computer programmer, which I stated to him, and I research my software and hardware before purchasing. I told him I would prefer to look around by myself before deciding and walked away. When I returned to the computer department, I heard him giving the same speech to another customer. Does your computer sales staff have any experience in computers? Degree? Background? From what I seen I have my doubts. I did purchase a system that fits my needs from another sales person who was very friendly and helpful.
Posted by gjbieber (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
dude, do you have a clue?
If you're a programmer, best buy doesn't have what you need.

build your own machine at newegg.com!

sheesh
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Link Flag
Probably did have a Degree: This is the Problem
Long ago stores quit hiring geeks who know what they were talking about. Instead, they hire kids fresh out of college, with a degree, wet behind the ears, who look good, and interview well.

Watching some of these retail operations is rather like watching a cross between a brokerage firm ("let's slap a little lipstick on this pig, and call it a date") and The Apprentice (wherein NONE of the "Project Managers" are even slightly aware of what a PMP is, not have the background to obtain same).

I have a soft spot in my heart for Pyrinex and SCC Distribution (as they have local warehouses), but Newegg is a good suggestion. Unless you need a laptop, then Sager or WinBook.

L
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Geeks don't make good salesmen....
I once worked at the local Best Buy. I was hired for their techbench, then moved to sales 2 weeks later when they didn't have enough money for me in that department. I'm not a salesman, and I told them this several times, but they went and put me out there anyway.

I was assigned to the cameras and camcorders department because they wanted someone who could tell people the relationship between digital cameras and computers. Of course, the sales training sucked bad. Watch some videos and you're all set. Yeah, right! Anyway, the guys in the computer department would always pull me over there to talk to some customer, and answer any technical questions. Many times I caught the guys trying to sell computers that weren't a match for the customers. Sometimes they needed more in a system, but more times than not, the system the customer was being sold was too much system for them, and I'd end up selling them a cheaper system. Of course, I had several "talks" about my "sales performance" with my supervisors, where I'd yet again remind them I was not a saleman.

Finally, they put back at the techbench after 7 months of hell on the sales floor. 3 weeks later I found a better job, and blew that joint. There's still one guy in the computer department that knows me. We'll say hi to each other and all, and he might ask me if I need something, then go about his business.

On a different note, I recently bought a laptop at Circuit City. The kid that was originally helping got a little on the pushy side before I told him I used to build and repair laptops. Heh, his whole tune changed and he finally just let me look on my own. Of course, I had to get approval from my significant other, but she and I agreed on the same laptop and we love it, without it being sold to us by a "salesman." Go figure.

Any product worth getting will sell itself, no sales pitch needed.
Posted by fireball74 (80 comments )
Link Flag
cvs gave me a coupon for feminine hygiene
I've never bought such products there!

how useless
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A bar of soap. . .
must not have been available. The clerk probably had a good
sense of smell, though.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
did you use it?
well?
Posted by City_Of_LA (118 comments )
Link Flag
cvs gave me a coupon for feminine hygiene
I've never bought such products there!

how useless
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A bar of soap. . .
must not have been available. The clerk probably had a good
sense of smell, though.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
did you use it?
well?
Posted by City_Of_LA (118 comments )
Link Flag
I think it is interesting
That they feel women aren't smart enough to figure out a high-tech item in a regular store like men do and that they are so dumb they need their own special store. I guess kind of like a real-live high -tech items for women dummies. I don't know I find that offensive. Perhaps if Best Buy had more intelliegent and help full sales people and put up more information on an item by the item a special store for stupid women wouldn't be needed.

Hay ladies how does it feel to be so... special?

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Patronizing pattern
Best Buy has long had a pattern of patronizing customers. It
divides them into stereotypical groups. So, a middle-aged woman
who is a computer progammer would be mistaken for a soccer
Mom. I find the stereotyping offensive.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
I think it is interesting
That they feel women aren't smart enough to figure out a high-tech item in a regular store like men do and that they are so dumb they need their own special store. I guess kind of like a real-live high -tech items for women dummies. I don't know I find that offensive. Perhaps if Best Buy had more intelliegent and help full sales people and put up more information on an item by the item a special store for stupid women wouldn't be needed.

Hay ladies how does it feel to be so... special?

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Patronizing pattern
Best Buy has long had a pattern of patronizing customers. It
divides them into stereotypical groups. So, a middle-aged woman
who is a computer progammer would be mistaken for a soccer
Mom. I find the stereotyping offensive.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Link Flag
Best Buy wonders whether you'd want to take home a defibrillator ...
""Best Buy wonders whether you'd want to take home a defibrillator along with your copy of "Project Gotham Racing 3."

LOL... this might be a good strategy from a legal standpoint... (sic)"This game may over-stress your heart, we recommend you have access to a defibrillator... just in case! :-)
Posted by edgirard (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Best Buy wonders whether you'd want to take home a defibrillator ...
""Best Buy wonders whether you'd want to take home a defibrillator along with your copy of "Project Gotham Racing 3."

LOL... this might be a good strategy from a legal standpoint... (sic)"This game may over-stress your heart, we recommend you have access to a defibrillator... just in case! :-)
Posted by edgirard (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's a similiar article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Outside 'big box'
Best Buy concept stores find new ways to target customers
By ANDREW JOHNSON and DORIS HAJEWSKI
andrewjohnson@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Feb. 18, 2006
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Meagan Lindsey plunked down $279 for an imported Motorola SLVR LG cell phone.

Escape, a consumer electronics boutique store owned by Best Buy located in Chicagos Lincoln Park neighborhood, has "luxury rooms" with the latest home audio and game equipment that customers can rent by the hour for their friends.

Tiffanie Love peruses the aisles at Escape Wednesday. With its dcor, Escape feels more like a trendy lounge than a store.

Several imported items that are hard to find in the U.S., such as these mobile tablet computers, are carried by Escape.

Studio d also is owned by Best Buy, but nothing in the 5,000-square-foot store says so. It caters to suburban moms.

She made her purchase at Escape, a boutique that also sells iPods, laptops and home audio equipment. Music by rock band Green Day plays at a comfortable volume over the store's speakers, and customers, mostly in their mid- to late 20s, browse the shelves.

With dim lighting, textured brick walls and black leather couches, Escape feels more like a trendy lounge than a consumer electronics store. And it doesn't look anything like most stores run by its corporate parent, Best Buy.

Thirty miles to the west and a few days later, in Naperville, six soccer moms focused on computers in a glass-enclosed classroom at a store called Studio d. The women were tackling the wonders of photo editing software that will take a cowlick off a kid's head, or turn a zit into a bad memory.

"I really think I can do this," said Sue Halford, a mother of three school-age children. "I've just gotten inspired."

Studio d also is owned by Best Buy, but nothing in the 5,000-square-foot store says so, and the mood is laid-back, quiet and comfy. Sandwiched between a Calico Corners fabric store and an upscale art shop, Studio d is done in sage greens and pale golds, with wood floors and wheat colored Berber carpet.

Studio d sells electronic products, mainly digital cameras and related merchandise, tailored to a female, suburban customer. While the store gets most of its revenue from product sales, according to manager Cindy Becker, it also does a big business in classes where customers can learn to use their new digital cameras without fear, and then make albums, scrapbooks and other mementos with their photos.

'Test labs'
Studio d and Escape, both which opened in 2004, are Best Buy Co. Inc.'s latest efforts to target specific customer segments.

Best Buy has not announced plans to expand the two small-format test concepts into other markets. But at the National Retail Federation convention in January, James Damian, senior vice president for Best Buy's experience development group, called Escape a "potential new business model."

If Best Buy is pleased with the performance of Studio d, it could become a chain, or the concept could be turned into an in-store shop, Becker said.

Neil Stern, a partner at McMillan Doolittle, a Chicago retail consulting firm, said he doesn't foresee Best Buy opening other Studio d or Escape locations.

"I really think that Escape and Studio d are test labs that are really designed to understand a particular customer segment much better," he said, adding that operating the stores is "more about research and development than it is about store profitability."

Best Buy can adapt its other stores based on trends it encounters in the concept stores, he said.

"I think Best Buy's certainly trying to undergo a transformation away from that big warehouse-style box, which served them very well for a long time," Stern said.

Some changes
In recent years, Best Buy has transformed the way it goes after customers. Two years ago, the company began rolling out its "customer centricity" model at its stores. The strategy focuses on making changes to stores based on the needs of the specific customer groups that shop there.

As of Nov. 26, there were 284 Best Buy stores operating under the customer centricity model, according to spokeswoman Dawn Bryant. Those stores are tailored toward specific customer groups: including affluent professional males; young entertainment enthusiasts who appreciate a digital lifestyle; upscale suburban moms; families who are budget-minded technology adopters; and small businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

Best Buy has names for each customer segment. The suburban moms are called Jill, for example.

Some of the changes Best Buy has made in its conventional outlets include reconfiguring the layout of certain stores and stocking higher quantities of certain products. For example, some stores now carry products from Magnolia Home Theater, a high-end line of home audio products owned by Best Buy.

Some stores now have personal shopping assistants who help customers find certain products and pick out items for gifts and for their homes. Customers can make an appointment with a shopping assistant before they come into the store or snag one when they walk in.

Best Buy plans to convert all its U.S. stores - there are about 930 - to the customer centricity model within three years. In the Milwaukee area, the newest Best Buy store in Menomonee Falls is the only one with the new customer-centric design. It's aimed at suburban moms.

Neither Escape nor Studio d is part of the customer centricity model, but their approach is similar.

Escape is aimed at young professionals between 26 and 35 who are tech-savvy, said store manager Joe Obucina.

A large portion of the store's customers are what Obucina calls "early adopters," or people who "have to have the latest and greatest" in technology.

"They don't need it, but they want it before anybody else has it," he said.

Obucina said although the store expected most of its customers would be male before it opened, it does have a large base of female customers who are into technology.

Lindsey, 30, who bought the pricey cell phone at Escape, isn't necessarily a techie and doesn't like the big box format stores. Going to a regular Best Buy is "too overwhelming," with its loud music, configuration and crowds of customers, she said.

Lindsey shopped at a cellular phone store before coming to Escape, and was impressed by how knowledgeable the employees at Escape were. Escape's store employees are trained on how to use all the store's products, a third of which are imported from Japan and Europe and are available only at Escape.

The exclusivity of some Escape products adds to the store's "wow factor" for some customers, Obucina said. Other customers who fit the early adopter profile often are already familiar with most of the products, he said.

Escape, which is 3,600 square feet, stocks its shelves based on customer feedback, ensuring it carries only the newest items that customers actually want to buy, he said. For example, when the store first opened it carried portable DVD players and camcorders, products Obucina said Escape customers weren't interested in buying.

Escape's customers want to test devices before they open their pocketbooks. Customers can try out products by renting one of the store's "luxury rooms" or "game pods."

Luxury rooms, which hold up to 10 people, contain the latest home audio products, including flat-screen televisions, projection screens, stereo systems and couches. They rent for $50 per hour. Game pods contain videogame consoles, including the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360, and cost $10 per hour.

"Those are places that sometimes are starting points for bachelor parties or get-togethers and stuff like that," Obucina said.

Digital alternative
In suburban Naperville, women gather at Studio d for classes held during the day and in the evening, in what might be described as a digital alternative to the scrapbooking stores that have sprung up in neighborhoods all over the U.S.

Customers pay about $40 per session to learn to turn their digital photos into glossy scrapbooks by designing each page on a computer, using virtual trim instead of trimming papers with scissors.

Studio d also sells frames, scrapbooks and items that can be embellished with digital photos.

Halford, the Naperville mom, has signed up for a class in March, so she's prepared to use her digital camera for the family's spring break cruise vacation.

"If you look at my albums, they stop when I got my digital camera," Halford said.

With a little coaching from Studio d, she's vowed to change that.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's a similiar article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Outside 'big box'
Best Buy concept stores find new ways to target customers
By ANDREW JOHNSON and DORIS HAJEWSKI
andrewjohnson@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Feb. 18, 2006
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Meagan Lindsey plunked down $279 for an imported Motorola SLVR LG cell phone.

Escape, a consumer electronics boutique store owned by Best Buy located in Chicagos Lincoln Park neighborhood, has "luxury rooms" with the latest home audio and game equipment that customers can rent by the hour for their friends.

Tiffanie Love peruses the aisles at Escape Wednesday. With its dcor, Escape feels more like a trendy lounge than a store.

Several imported items that are hard to find in the U.S., such as these mobile tablet computers, are carried by Escape.

Studio d also is owned by Best Buy, but nothing in the 5,000-square-foot store says so. It caters to suburban moms.

She made her purchase at Escape, a boutique that also sells iPods, laptops and home audio equipment. Music by rock band Green Day plays at a comfortable volume over the store's speakers, and customers, mostly in their mid- to late 20s, browse the shelves.

With dim lighting, textured brick walls and black leather couches, Escape feels more like a trendy lounge than a consumer electronics store. And it doesn't look anything like most stores run by its corporate parent, Best Buy.

Thirty miles to the west and a few days later, in Naperville, six soccer moms focused on computers in a glass-enclosed classroom at a store called Studio d. The women were tackling the wonders of photo editing software that will take a cowlick off a kid's head, or turn a zit into a bad memory.

"I really think I can do this," said Sue Halford, a mother of three school-age children. "I've just gotten inspired."

Studio d also is owned by Best Buy, but nothing in the 5,000-square-foot store says so, and the mood is laid-back, quiet and comfy. Sandwiched between a Calico Corners fabric store and an upscale art shop, Studio d is done in sage greens and pale golds, with wood floors and wheat colored Berber carpet.

Studio d sells electronic products, mainly digital cameras and related merchandise, tailored to a female, suburban customer. While the store gets most of its revenue from product sales, according to manager Cindy Becker, it also does a big business in classes where customers can learn to use their new digital cameras without fear, and then make albums, scrapbooks and other mementos with their photos.

'Test labs'
Studio d and Escape, both which opened in 2004, are Best Buy Co. Inc.'s latest efforts to target specific customer segments.

Best Buy has not announced plans to expand the two small-format test concepts into other markets. But at the National Retail Federation convention in January, James Damian, senior vice president for Best Buy's experience development group, called Escape a "potential new business model."

If Best Buy is pleased with the performance of Studio d, it could become a chain, or the concept could be turned into an in-store shop, Becker said.

Neil Stern, a partner at McMillan Doolittle, a Chicago retail consulting firm, said he doesn't foresee Best Buy opening other Studio d or Escape locations.

"I really think that Escape and Studio d are test labs that are really designed to understand a particular customer segment much better," he said, adding that operating the stores is "more about research and development than it is about store profitability."

Best Buy can adapt its other stores based on trends it encounters in the concept stores, he said.

"I think Best Buy's certainly trying to undergo a transformation away from that big warehouse-style box, which served them very well for a long time," Stern said.

Some changes
In recent years, Best Buy has transformed the way it goes after customers. Two years ago, the company began rolling out its "customer centricity" model at its stores. The strategy focuses on making changes to stores based on the needs of the specific customer groups that shop there.

As of Nov. 26, there were 284 Best Buy stores operating under the customer centricity model, according to spokeswoman Dawn Bryant. Those stores are tailored toward specific customer groups: including affluent professional males; young entertainment enthusiasts who appreciate a digital lifestyle; upscale suburban moms; families who are budget-minded technology adopters; and small businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

Best Buy has names for each customer segment. The suburban moms are called Jill, for example.

Some of the changes Best Buy has made in its conventional outlets include reconfiguring the layout of certain stores and stocking higher quantities of certain products. For example, some stores now carry products from Magnolia Home Theater, a high-end line of home audio products owned by Best Buy.

Some stores now have personal shopping assistants who help customers find certain products and pick out items for gifts and for their homes. Customers can make an appointment with a shopping assistant before they come into the store or snag one when they walk in.

Best Buy plans to convert all its U.S. stores - there are about 930 - to the customer centricity model within three years. In the Milwaukee area, the newest Best Buy store in Menomonee Falls is the only one with the new customer-centric design. It's aimed at suburban moms.

Neither Escape nor Studio d is part of the customer centricity model, but their approach is similar.

Escape is aimed at young professionals between 26 and 35 who are tech-savvy, said store manager Joe Obucina.

A large portion of the store's customers are what Obucina calls "early adopters," or people who "have to have the latest and greatest" in technology.

"They don't need it, but they want it before anybody else has it," he said.

Obucina said although the store expected most of its customers would be male before it opened, it does have a large base of female customers who are into technology.

Lindsey, 30, who bought the pricey cell phone at Escape, isn't necessarily a techie and doesn't like the big box format stores. Going to a regular Best Buy is "too overwhelming," with its loud music, configuration and crowds of customers, she said.

Lindsey shopped at a cellular phone store before coming to Escape, and was impressed by how knowledgeable the employees at Escape were. Escape's store employees are trained on how to use all the store's products, a third of which are imported from Japan and Europe and are available only at Escape.

The exclusivity of some Escape products adds to the store's "wow factor" for some customers, Obucina said. Other customers who fit the early adopter profile often are already familiar with most of the products, he said.

Escape, which is 3,600 square feet, stocks its shelves based on customer feedback, ensuring it carries only the newest items that customers actually want to buy, he said. For example, when the store first opened it carried portable DVD players and camcorders, products Obucina said Escape customers weren't interested in buying.

Escape's customers want to test devices before they open their pocketbooks. Customers can try out products by renting one of the store's "luxury rooms" or "game pods."

Luxury rooms, which hold up to 10 people, contain the latest home audio products, including flat-screen televisions, projection screens, stereo systems and couches. They rent for $50 per hour. Game pods contain videogame consoles, including the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360, and cost $10 per hour.

"Those are places that sometimes are starting points for bachelor parties or get-togethers and stuff like that," Obucina said.

Digital alternative
In suburban Naperville, women gather at Studio d for classes held during the day and in the evening, in what might be described as a digital alternative to the scrapbooking stores that have sprung up in neighborhoods all over the U.S.

Customers pay about $40 per session to learn to turn their digital photos into glossy scrapbooks by designing each page on a computer, using virtual trim instead of trimming papers with scissors.

Studio d also sells frames, scrapbooks and items that can be embellished with digital photos.

Halford, the Naperville mom, has signed up for a class in March, so she's prepared to use her digital camera for the family's spring break cruise vacation.

"If you look at my albums, they stop when I got my digital camera," Halford said.

With a little coaching from Studio d, she's vowed to change that.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How hard is it to ask us what we want?
Really, it's not rocket science for anybody running this company to figure out what needs to change in these stores to make customers happy. Just pretend you're going there to buy something, and see what happens!

Say you're looking for a tv. You go to the tv aisle and the expensive tv's are hooked up to a crappy cable connection that make them look bad. Easy fix! Or the TV/home theater equipment in the "lounging" area is some old-tech projection tv with old-tech components attached. Boring! Put your best stuff out there for people to see and make them want to buy it! Or you have a serious question and can't figure out who the "expert" for the section is so you ask some high school kid who pretends to know and get a bad answer. Fix that! Get the basics right and nobody will NEED a defibrillator!
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ignorant management
You need to understand that within upper management in these companies you'll find 99% of them have never actually worked in one of their own stores. That is why these stores are 15 years behind their customers and scratching their heads wondering how to do it right!

Bank of America did it right by recruiting Management for their banks by seeking STORE level management not the crusty goons at the corporate retail headquarters who kiss ass all day!
Posted by JoJo Pumpkin (18 comments )
Link Flag
How hard is it to ask us what we want?
Really, it's not rocket science for anybody running this company to figure out what needs to change in these stores to make customers happy. Just pretend you're going there to buy something, and see what happens!

Say you're looking for a tv. You go to the tv aisle and the expensive tv's are hooked up to a crappy cable connection that make them look bad. Easy fix! Or the TV/home theater equipment in the "lounging" area is some old-tech projection tv with old-tech components attached. Boring! Put your best stuff out there for people to see and make them want to buy it! Or you have a serious question and can't figure out who the "expert" for the section is so you ask some high school kid who pretends to know and get a bad answer. Fix that! Get the basics right and nobody will NEED a defibrillator!
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ignorant management
You need to understand that within upper management in these companies you'll find 99% of them have never actually worked in one of their own stores. That is why these stores are 15 years behind their customers and scratching their heads wondering how to do it right!

Bank of America did it right by recruiting Management for their banks by seeking STORE level management not the crusty goons at the corporate retail headquarters who kiss ass all day!
Posted by JoJo Pumpkin (18 comments )
Link Flag
 

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