Dynamist Blog

Beyond One-Best-Buy Shopping

The WaPost's Ariana Eunjung Cha reports on how Best Buy is tailoring the environment and service at particularly stores to appeal to specific types of customers. It's yet another sign that one-best-way store environments, like lowest-common-denominator products, just aren't as valuable--or aren't as competitive--as they once were.

Big chain stores used to be among the most egalitarian of places. They were aimed at the average person, the generic "shopper," without conscious regard to background, race, religion or sex. That is changing as computer databases have allowed corporations to gather an unparalleled amount of data about their customers. Many retailers, like Best Buy, are analyzing the data to figure out which customers are the most profitable -- and the least -- and to adjust their policies accordingly....

inspired by Columbia University Professor Larry Selden's book, "Angel Customers and Demon Customers," Best Buy chief executive Bradbury H. Anderson is on a mission to reinvent how the company thinks about its customers. Best Buy has pared some less desirable shoppers from its mailing lists and has tightened up its return policy to prevent abuse. At the same time, it has begun to woo a roster of shopper profiles, each given a name: Buzz (the young tech enthusiast), Barry (the wealthy professional man), Ray (the family man) and, especially, Jill.

Based on analyses of databases of purchases, local census numbers, surveys of customers and targeted focus groups, Best Buy last fall started converting its 67 California stores to cater to one or more of those segments of its shopping population. It plans to roll out a similar redesign at its 660 stores nationwide -- including about 15 in the Washington area -- over the next three years. The Best Buys in the Springfield Mall, the Fairlakes shopping center and Potomac Mills, for instance, are being transformed into stores for Barrys, featuring leather couches where one might imagine enjoying a drink and a cigar while watching a large-screen TV hooked up to a high-end sound system.

The Santa Rosa Best Buy, Store #120, is a Jill store.

Pink, red and white balloons festoon the entrance. TVs play "The Incredibles." There is an expanded selection of home appliances as well as new displays stocked with Hello Kitty, Barbie and SpongeBob SquarePants electronic equipment. Nooks are set up to look like dorms or recreation rooms where mom and the children can play with the latest high-tech gadgets at their leisure. Best Buy has new express checkout lines for the Jills; store managers say anyone can use them, but if you are not escorted by a special service representative they can be easy to miss. The music over the loudspeakers has been turned down a notch and is usually a selection of Jill's favorites, such as James Taylor and Mariah Carey.

Cha's piece is a good read. Don't rely on the excerpt. Read the whole thing.

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