Best Buy May Adopt Apple's Approach To Retail
July 6, 2012

Best Buy May Adopt Apple’s Approach To Retail

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

If you haven´t been to an Apple store lately, say in the past 8 months, I suggest you take a visit next time you´re near one. Yes, they may be busier than you remember, what with the increasing population of Apple buyers and Apple users, but they are still a thing of wonder.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was waiting to meet an old friend and fellow redOrbit staff writer, I decided to pop in for a moment. After all, I hadn´t yet gotten my hands on the new MacBook Pros with Retina Display. (They´re beautiful, by the way)

The store was bustling with people playing with new devices, remarking to one another how light the MacBook Airs really are, how crisp the new iPad screen is, and otherwise realizing how simple it is to use each of their products.

Though the store was busy, there was still a level of organization there. I didn´t feel trapped in the store, and I felt as if I basically knew where everything in the store would be: Mac laptops to the left as soon as you walk in the wide-open glass doors, iPads and iPhones to the right.

It only took them several years, but now a report from the Wall Street Journal says Best Buy will start to imitate the look and layout of an Apple store, eschewing their cheap, warehouse feel that, I can only imagine, was meant to make customers feel as if they were getting a deal from buying in the shady part of town.

Near their headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota, a test store has already set up their mock-Apple store with plain, minimalist white tables showcasing some of their wares and their black-tied Geeks standing behind a counter which almost resembles a Genius Bar.

Another Apple innovation which Best Buy plans to adopt: The ability to pay anywhere in the store. This is one Apple-ism I wish more retail chains would adopt. In their test stores, Best Buy customers can now check out from any of their employees, rather than herding them to the checkout lines at the front of the store.

According to the Wall Street Journal piece, Best Buy´s new test stores will focus less on trying to display every item they sell and more on connecting with their customers and providing them with the answers they so desperately crave.

Best Buy is eager to bring more customers to their brick-and-mortar stores, as many would-be buyers are opting to buy from another retailer online, and usually finding the product they want at a cheaper price than they´d find in the Big Blue Box stores.

According to the WSJ piece, half of Best Buy´s shoppers check their prices against other retailers on their smartphones and tablets. Just 2 years ago, only 10% of their customers did this kind of active price-checking. The company´s stock has dropped by 33% in the same time frame. With this recent slippage, Best Buy is also closing 50 of its 1,100 US big box stores. They will also convert 60 of their smaller stores to this new, Apple-inspired format. These smaller stores are about 20% smaller than the giant, warehouse-themed box locations. With less space dedicated to big screen televisions and appliances, Best Buy will have room for e-readers, smartphones and tablets, a market which has actually helped Best Buy´s profits.

Some analysts are skeptical, saying a simple change in layout isn´t enough to turn their business around. Christopher Horvers, analyst at Morgan Chase & Co. suggests Best Buy work on improving their service, given "the turnover inherent with a workforce dominated by young part-time workers.”

So far, customers seem pleased with the improvements. When the Wall Street Journal cornered 32-year old Tom Shepard in the new store, he said, “It seems much more open and easy to find things.”

Apple´s retail has long been a model for other chains to look up to, but will their model transfer to other companies as well?