LAS VEGAS - Best Buy's unique blend of stores, website, mobile shopping and support services puts it in the catbird seat as electronics devices become increasingly connected.
That was the message from Brian Dunn, CEO of the world's largest CE retail chain, in a one-on-one interview conducted at International CES by Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).
"The business is changing," Dunn observed. "People are coming in to buy a piece that interacts with what they already own." Best Buy's role in an increasingly connected world is to provide the widest variety of products from great manufacturers and help consumers link them with Geek Squad's support.
"Choice is so utterly critical," he said of the company's product and services assortment, and the stores provide a forum for consumers to "test-drive products and see what's good for them. It's the best place to see them side by side," assisted by what he described as "the most incredible sales force ever assembled in the industry. It's a compelling combination."
Dunn said Best Buy's multichannel strategy is gaining traction, as demonstrated by "unprecedented demand" on its website, and monthly triple-digit comp-store growth through its mobile commerce channel.
"We need to be where the customer is and make good bets on where they're going," he said, although no one channel is a panacea. "Online is very important, but it's not sufficient alone, and bricks alone are not sufficient. We need to be wherever the customer needs us to be."
To that end, Dunn rejected the oft-repeated notion that the chain's 1,100 U.S. big-box stores are an "anchor" around its neck, and described its installed base of stores as "a huge advantage. It's hard to greenfield stores in this environment."
The wide-ranging discussion, which included playful jabs between interviewer and interviewee, also touched on the merchant's top product picks at the show. Dunn acknowledged a TV bias, having begun his career at Best Buy 26 years ago as a television salesman, and noted, "I love what's happening in big-screen TV. They're big, bright and look terrific."
Dunn also endorsed the Ultrabook category, which combined with the coming Windows 8 update, will give the PC business a needed boost, and provided some words of advice to new exhibitors.
"I love being able to see some of the smaller exhibitors," he said. "We meet with the big guys all the time. The challenge [for them] is it can very difficult to break through. They need to be tenacious, but we are avid listeners," and he tells his team to "send me a note if you find something interesting."
Dunn added that the company will soon announce new overseas partnerships with offshore retailers as part of its go-forward international strategy. Like its relationship with Britain's Carphone Warehouse, the new alliances will allow Best Buy to leverage its partners' established local strengths and brands, which are more familiar than its own franchise and contributed to the closure of Best Buy-branded stores in China and in the United Kingdom last month.