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Best Buy Drops Free Car Installs

Best Buy is ending its long-standing tradition of offering free car stereo installation and is bringing all car installation under the Geek Squad department.

The leading consumer electronics chain, with more than 850 stores, is combining its car stereo installation department with Geek Squad because many in-home technologies such as video and gaming are migrating to the car.

“We’re seeing Wiis and Xbox 360s and Playstations3s installed in cars,” explained Chris Homeister, VP for PCs and mobility products. In addition, he said, computer, home A/V, portable and car products continue to merge and by extending Geek Squad into more areas, it positions the company for the future.

After a test trial this summer in six markets, Best Buy found that consumers are willing to pay for installation and “this is not something we need to give away,” said Homeister.

Best Buy has begun charging $49.99 to install a head unit, and continues to charge $41.99 to install speakers and $69.99 for amplifiers. Previously, head units over $100 were installed at no charge on frequent promotions.

Jeff Severts, services VP, said just as the Geek Squad expanded into home theater earlier this year, it made sense to broaden into car stereo. “When we used to talk to the consumer about Geek Squad, exploring it for home theater, they used to say it was not something they could imagine. Geek Squad meant computing, they thought. Now, two or three years later, we don’t hear any of that. Consumers believe all of this stuff is similar. They don’t have any trouble believing the same organization that can fix one, can fix, install or integrate the other.”

Although the company has considered making house calls for vehicle installations, it will not presently offer that service, Severts said.

The chain, the leader in car stereo with approximately $1.5 billion in car stereo sales last year according to the TWICE Top 25 Car Electronics Retailers report, has already begun converting to Geek Squad service and will soon convert all stores offering car stereo installation, which includes nearly all locations.

By charging for installation service, the technicians are now able to perform other services, said Homeister. On Sept. 9, the company began allowing technicians to offer the free set up of portable GPS devices. “They will come out to the car, take the unit out of the box, power it up and map you to the next destination you are going to. We couldn’t do that before with free installs. No one else provides this service,” said Homeister.

At Best Buy locations that have already converted to paid service car stereo sales are up, he claimed. Although the overall 12-volt market is declining, Best Buy says its sales are gaining and its market share is at a record high. In GPS, he said, Best Buy has captured 33.8 percent of the market according to the NPD Group’s August figures.