Best Buy has begun to make good on the industry's promise of a connected future by reconfiguring stores and retraining personnel in order present customers with on-floor demos of portability's possibilities.
To date, seven stores in two markets have been retrofit as the company begins to shift emphasis from selling individual SKUs to building personal networks with products and services that will allow consumers to manage content at home and on the road.
These laboratory stores may provide a glimpse into Best Buy's and the industry's future, as CE's largest specialty retailer lays the groundwork for what appears to be an evolutionary transformation in its approach to market. But the changes may have been prompted as much by mass-market competition as the arrival of convergence, as Wal-Mart's CE offering begins to spill over into Best Buy's traditional terrain.
The new "experience areas" are comprised of four wirelessly connected, interactive vignettes, including a "media room" and a "family room," where shoppers are invited to download and play music, view transmitted images on a TV screen and generally "unleash the capability" of digital devices, said senior VP/CE George Danko.
Although Best Buy is still in "a learning phase," as the prototype pods are tested and refined, Danko said the company is pleased with the results to date, and plans to take the concept national over the course of the next two to three years.
Supporting the effort is an expanded wireless assortment, specially trained sales personnel and a "much improved" service element that ranges from in-store advice to home installation options.
"We're moving from discreet sales of products and subscription services to demonstrating how it all works together as the consumer becomes untethered," Danko said. "But it takes a different store environment and skill level to deliver the entire experience to customers."
He added, "People may have bought a PC, a cell phone, a laptop, an MP3 player and a digital TV, but their eyes open wide when we show them the art of what's possible" by linking all of them together wirelessly.