In response to a first-quarter earnings call question, Best Buy president/CEO Hubert Joly acknowledged that the Internet has deflected store traffic as well as sales.
“Now we are seeing, as any other retailer, a phenomenon which is a reduction of in-store traffic as customers spend more time researching online and many times closing the sale online and some of the times going into the stores,” he told analysts.
But unlike other merchants, Joly is taking unique steps, if not to reverse the rising tide of e-tail, to at least minimize the damage, which can be considerable for a national brick-and-mortar chain.
As he attempts to generate more footprints with online price-matching and vendor-branded shops, he’s also looking to match, with micro precision, the number of sales associates on hand to the volume of visitors in stores. The goal, he said, is to “adjust dynamically the staffing to the traffic, store by store, but also day by day and hour by hour and category by category.”
One way to anticipate store labor needs is to control the flow of traffic. Joly hopes to perfect that lever over the coming years via the company’s recently developed “Athena” database, which will allow it to send personalized pitches to customers and staff up local stores accordingly.
And, like other retailers, he’s building his e-commerce capabilities to create the Holy Grail of retail: a seamless multichannel experience for customers. “I would note one thing,” he said, “which is that increasingly it is going to be hard to distinguish between online and store.”
If brick-and-mortar’s going down, as some pundits predict, it ain’t leaving without a fight.