Facing similar challenges to many retailers today, Best Buy finds itself operating largely in two worlds, the increasingly pervasive digital and the traditional bricks-and-mortar physical. Attempting to bridge both and draw out their best features and advantages is a daunting task. In fact, the closing months of 2014 have provided prime examples of the challenges the company has struggled against.
On one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday (November 28, 2014), the Best Buy website was shut down temporarily due to a surge in traffic (source: cnbc.com, bloomberg.com, investing.businessweek.com).
Then, on December 4, 2014, Best Buy announced that it was looking to divest its Five Star business and its 184 locations in China, having entered into a definitive sales agreement with China-based buyer, Jiayuan Group (source: bloomberg.com, corporate.bestbuy.com). The China retreat follows on the heels of 2012’s European withdrawl, as well as the 2014 divestiture of Best Buy’s 50 percent stake in British electronics chain, Carphone Warehouse Group Plc, and technology provider, mindSHIFT Technologies Inc. (source: bloomberg.com, corporate.bestbuy.com).
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, Shanghai, China (source: minnpost.com)
Armed with a slimmed down property portfolio, Best Buy can effectively refocus its efforts at home. Now operating approximately 1,800 stores, with the U.S. stores representing roughly 85 percent of sales, Best Buy’s retail presence will be concentrated in the United States, Canada and Mexico, further cementing its status as North America’s largest electronics retailer (source: corporate.bestbuy.com, bloomberg.com, minnpost.com). In fact, electronic retailer’s presence is so pervasive in its home market that more than 70 percent of Americans are within 15 minutes of a Best Buy store (source: corporate.bestbuy.com).
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, Salmon Run Mall, Watertown, New York
2-Format : Formula
Incorporated in the state of Minnesota in 1966 as Sound of Music, Inc., the audio specialty business originating with a St. Paul, Minnesota, strip mall store, would expand to several stores within the next dozen or so years (source: minnpost.com, wikipedia.org). In 1983, the company would adopt the Best Buy Co. Superstores name, and open its first superstore in Burnsville, Minnesota (source: corporate.bestbuy.com, minnpost.com, Best Buy Fiscal 2014 Annual Report, google.brand.edgar-online.com, companyspotlight.com, secdatabase.com, wikipedia.org). Influenced heavily from the positive sales results from the “Tornado Sale” in 1981, the Burnsville store featured a high-volume, low price business model (source: wikipedia.org). Unsurprisingly, the Burnsville store would out-perform the pooled results from all the other Best Buy stores (source: wikipedia.org). The Burnsville superstore would prove to be a winning format and formula, launching a new prototype store model to emulate.
Best Buy no5 (originally a Sound of Music store), side 3/4 view, 3200 Southdale Circle (66th & York), Edina, Minnesota
Best Buy no5 (originally a Sound of Music store), side 3/4 view, 3200 Southdale Circle (66th & York), Edina, Minnesota
Best Buy no5 (originally a Sound of Music store), Aerial view, 3200 Southdale Circle (66th & York), Edina, Minnesota
In 1989, Best Buy introduced a new store model called “Concept II”, which featured less-industrial looking store interiors complete with a more contemporary FF&E (Fixture, Furniture and Equipment) package (source: wikipedia.org). Displaying all stock on the sales floor, rather than in a stock room, along with a smaller sales force supported by the availability of more self-serve type product information resulted in a more casual, lower-pressure shopping experience (source: wikipedia.org). Concept II served notice that Best Buy was looking to move away from an industrial/warehouse design ethos.
By the middle of the 1990s, “Concept III” stores, featuring larger retail footprints, would make their debut (source: wikipedia.org). Introduced in 1995, the new store concept featured an extensive product depth and breadth, more interactivity through information kiosks, and demonstration areas for select product categories (source: wikipedia.org). Yet, within a few years, Best Buy would introduce yet another store concept.
Coinciding with expansion into the New England market, Best Buy inaugurated its “Concept IV” stores design in 1998 (source: wikipedia.org). Ringing in slightly smaller than its previous iteration, and combining an open layout with checkouts dotted throughout the store, this new concept proposed product display areas organized by category and dedicated demonstrations areas for selected wares (source: wikipedia.org). As could be expected, Best Buy furthered a penchant for experimentation in its store layout, department arrangements and merchandising methods.
Following up on its tradition of store design and layout experimentation, Best Buy would adopt a different metric in the early part of the new millennium.
Seeking to target stores to particular customer profiles, Best Buy embarked on a “customer-centric” path in 2004 (source: wikipedia.org). Broadly, the customer-centric mantra stipulates that all facets of the business activity, product selection, placement, store environment, sales, and support services, revolve around specific customer groups and their experience. The essence of which, the customer and their needs, are central to all decision-making activity.
Through the process of customer segmentation, Best Buy identified five distinct groups (source: ignify.com). Consequently, Best Buy sought to alter the interior design of selected stores to better align with the predominant group within that particular store or geographical market.
Initially, the consumer-centric approach yielded positive incremental sales results, but by the end of 2005, with costs ballooning beyond expectations, the validity of the strategy was in doubt (source: ignify.com). Best Buy corroborated its commitment to customer-centricity in 2008, unveiling the “New Blue” concept that sought specifically to appeal to female customers, as well as taking the wraps off a Denver-area store designed in partnership with the local community (source: vmsd.com, reuters.com). Nonetheless, the experience with consumer-centric design had uneven results, and provided few aspects that could be replicated across a national or international design or floor plan roll-out program. As such, even armed with customer insight, Best Buy would need to reflect further before hitting onto a universal design approach.
For several reasons, 2012 would turn out to be a significant year for Best Buy.
In March, the retailer announced plans to cut several hundred head office jobs, close 50 stores whilst accelerating its plans to open more Best Buy Mobile locations (source: forbes.com, cnbc.com, CNET.com, google.brand.edgar-online.com, companyspotlight.com, secdatabase.com). Shortly thereafter, embattled CEO Brian Dunn would resign (source: forbes.com, cnbc.com). And amid declining revenues, a tepid US economic recovery and an increasingly difficult retail environment, Best Buy unveiled its “Connected Stores” model in the summer of 2012 hoping to reverse its fortunes and regain some of its relevance against online competitors.
Colloquially referred to as “Best Buy 2.0” by interim CEO Mike Mikan, new prototype test stores opened to the public in Minneapolis, MN, San Antonio, TX and Palm Desert, CA, heralding a new beginning for the big box retailer (source: CNET.com, BusinessInsider.com, technobuffalo.com, online.wsj.com, startribune.com, palmspringslife.com).
A sleek new façade, composed of mesh in Best Buy’s trademark blue, replaced the familiar wedge design that had been jettisoned in the process. Linear, flat and less grandiose, the new “Connected Stores” clearly alluded to further changes inside.
Best Buy (circa 2007), front view, 1000 West 78th Street, Richfield, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy (circa 2014), front view, 1000 West 78th Street, Richfield, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
Roughly 20 percent smaller than a typical Best Buy, initial reports claimed that the stores were less cluttered, cleaner, and sleeker, which combined with shorter display shelving and bright paint projected an amplified sense of openness and litheness (source: CNET.com, BusinessInsider.com, technobuffalo.com, online.wsj.com, startribune.com, palmspringslife.com). Additionally, environments that engaged and connected consumers with technology, further contributed to reduce clutter and visual distractions (source: CNET.com, BusinessInsider.com, technobuffalo.com, online.wsj.com, startribune.com,palmspringslife.com).
Best Buy (circa 2013), side 3/4 view, 13513 Ridgedale Drive, Hopkins, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
Striving to provide customers with goods as well as technology solutions, the aptly named “Solution Central” kiosk, staffed by the Geek Squad technical support team, resides in the centre of the store (source: CNET.com, BusinessInsider.com, technobuffalo.com, online.wsj.com, startribune.com, palmspringslife.com).
Set-up and zoned similarly to traditional department stores, checkouts are scattered throughout the store allowing customers to complete a transaction from start-to-finish with the same associate (source: CNET.com, BusinessInsider.com, technobuffalo.com, online.wsj.com, startribune.com).
Best Buy (pre 2013), Aerial view, 11600 Leona Road, Eden Prairie, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy (circa 2013), front 3/4 view, 11600 Leona Road, Eden Prairie, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
Amid the fanfare of the unveiling of the new “Connected Stores” format, interim CEO Mike Mikan had hinted at Best Buy’s plan to “transition 60 existing stores to the new format” (source: technobuffalo.com). Unfortunately, shortly after unveiling the format, Best Buy was already scrambling to hit the reset button once again.
Best Buy (circa 2007), front 3/4 view, 1643 County Road B2 West, Roseville, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy (circa 2011), front 3/4 view, 1643 County Road B2 West, Roseville, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy (circa 2012), front 3/4 view, 1643 County Road B2 West, Roseville, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)
The revamped concept store had made it to 50 locations by November 2012 before new CEO Hubert Joly would suspend large portions of the design package (source: blogs.wsj.com). Citing expenditures in FF&E as an unwise use of capital, Joly nonetheless proceeded with the “store-within-a-store” portions of the concept (source: blogs.wsj.com). Nearly every Best Buy store now features a Samsung Experience Shops (source: marketwatch.com, techcrunch.com). Nearly half of Best Buy stores contain an Apple, and a Windows (Microsoft) store (source: marketwatch.com, techcrunch.com). Additionally, one quarter of all Best Buy stores are slated to house Sony stores (source: digitaltrends.com). Although not the most novel component of the “Connected Stores” design package, the “store-within-a-store” component would prove to be the most easily implemented across the Best Buy chain.
5-Wedge you go now?
Like many other retailers, Best Buy maintains a plethora of stores and locations that would not fit into neat organized categories.
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, Billy Bishop Way, Downsview, Ontario, Canada
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 5th Avenue and 44th Street, New York City, New York
Best Buy, front view, 3270 Golf Road #100, Delafield, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)
Extrapolating a U.S. corporate average sized store at roughly 38,500 sq. ft., with suburban superstores generally ranging between 45,000 sq. ft. and 30,000 sq. ft., Best Buy also operates smaller stores such as those in malls and in urban locations (source: corporate.bestbuy.com, Best Buy Fiscal 2014 Annual Report). Legacy stores, stand-alone operations, integration into a strip mall or serving as an anchor tenant, several real estate conditions that can impact the overall store design.
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 84 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy, front view, 4807 Concord Pike, Wilmington, Delaware (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy, front view, Marché Central, Boulevard de l’Acadie, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Furthermore, factors such as locale, climate, zoning ordinances, building code restriction, existing conditions, geographic features, mall locations, design covenants, can ultimately affect, and at times dictate, the final design of a commercial/ retail building or development project.
Best Buy, front view, 3967 Route 31, Clay, New York
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, N95 W15915 Richfield Way, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 402 E Fordham Road, Bronx, New York (source: maps.google.com)
Nonetheless, the “Connected stores” design, with its new less ostentatious aesthetic, was tantamount to taking a sledge to the wedge, and dismantling the built-in recognition and familiarity that the design had garnered over the years and decades.
Best Buy, front facade, Coventry Road, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 310 Goddard Boulevard, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)
A significant portion of the North American suburban Best Buy superstore customer experience is linked with the wedge design, prominently featured on the front façade, and spread predominantly across the range of stores across the United States and Canada.
Best Buy, front view, Dundas Street, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 1307 E Gladstone Street, Glendora, California (source: maps.google.com)
In fact, the wedge building design has broadly come to typify and characterize the Best Buy superstore suburban style and general appearance.
Best Buy, front view, The Maine Mall, 364 Maine Mall Road, Portland, Maine (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 217 Independence Boulevard, Virginia Beach, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)
At times projecting above the roofline, contained within the building height, crossing over across the roof, or affixed to the wall surface, the large, stylized wedge, clad in blue, typically serves to frame the main entrance. The wedge bisects the roughly 3-storey tall, rectilinear, box format store, adding some surface relief and plane variation, as well as reducing the visual mass of the relatively blank façade.
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 2401 North Mayfair Road, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy, front view, Wrangleboro Consumer Square, S Wrangleboro Road at Atlantic City Expressway, Mays Landing, New Jersey (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy, front 3/4 view Qwest Fiesta Mall, 1455 West Southern Avenue, Meza, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)
Ingress and egress functions are combined in this central location, which is clad in glazing, affording natural daylight and views into the store.
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, Westbank Expressway and Manhattan Boulevard, Harvey, Louisiana (source: maps.google)
Clad in resilient, low maintenance materials, such as brick, cmu (concrete masonry units), precast concrete panels, and tilt-up panels, the exterior is designed to survive impact damage, especially at the base. At higher elevations, where impact damage is less likely to occur, less resilient materials such as EIFS (Exterior Insulation and Finish System), ACP (Aluminium Clad Panels), metal panels and the like are also utilized.
The building exterior is rather muted. Finished in beiges, browns and whites, the colour palette is limited.
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 2701 North Mesquite Drive, Mesquite, Texas (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy, front view, 642 Baltimore Pike, Springfield, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)
Horizontal banding tends to add a layer of architectural relief whilst also contributing to reduce the visual heft of a blank vertical canvas.
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 2300 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)
Vertical banding or columns can also be deciphered at some locations, adding a more pronounced relief in the wall plane, or even telegraphing the building’s structural grid of bays and bents within the elevations.
Best Buy, front view, Merivale Road near Hunt Club Road, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The rectilinear building geometry tends to propose a minimum of 4 sides to the typical stand-alone Best Buy location, although with receiving areas and trash screens and other functional areas, the number of elevations can quickly escalate. However, locations within strip malls, where stores are ganged together, might only feature front and rear elevations. Nevertheless, the front façade is where most of the design effort is expended.
Best Buy, front view, Yonge Street near Green Lane, East Gwillimbury, Ontario, Canada
Best Buy, rear 3/4 view, Yonge Street near Green Lane, East Gwillimbury, Ontario, Canada
Other elevations, such as the side and rear are at times devoid of any identifying marks. Other times, they might showcase signage, or even a variation on the wedge theme from the front façade. Examples of smaller wedges, akin to a pie slice seemingly jammed into the ground plane and jutting out over the roofline can be observed.
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, Shops at the Ithaca Mall, 40 Catherwood Road, Ithaca, New York (source: maps.google.com)
Having invested in, and capitalized on the wedge, the Best Buy big-box superstore format and the wedge design have become almost inseparable. Seemingly, both have become readily identifiable and integral parts of the Best Buy brand identity and corporate communication materials.
Best Buy masthead (source: bestbuy.com)
As such, the unfathomable problem with the watered-down “Connected Stores” store-within-a-store only approach to the brand redesign is getting customers to actually notice changes underway inside. Functionally hampered by the familiarity and commonality of the wedge, there are few outwardly visible cues in the store appearance to suggest that a retail revolution of sorts is taking place beyond the outer shell.
Even though former retail competitor Circuit City has long since closed, other retailers such as HH Gregg, along with online merchants, have emerged to maintain a competitive and unrelenting marketplace. Yet, unlike online merchants, whom can largely ignore the aesthetics of their facilities, retailers are intricately tied to and dependent on the appearance and image projected by their retail stores. Engaging, incentivizing, exciting, convincing, inciting and drawing consumers into the physical stores remains a constant balancing act for retailers.
Although Best Buy does propose several means to reach its customers, through its network of superstores, malls stores and mobile stores, through kiosks and through the website, the “Connected Stores” concept offered a unique opportunity to explicitly broadcast to its customer base that something new was underway in its retail stores.
Best Buy, interior mall entrance, Champlain Centre, Plattsburg, New York
Best Buy, front 3/4 view, 52 E 14th Street Suite 64, New York City, New York (source: maps.google.com)
Best Buy Kiosk, Fort Lauderdale Airport, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Advocating to dismantle, and abandon an established design and architectural identity is difficult and generally unpalatable. Investments in new fixtures, interior lighting, graphics, signage, display cases and the like, while valiant efforts, will go unnoticed if consumers cannot find a “new” reason to set foot inside. Yet, convincing consumers to take a fresh look at Best Buy’s retail stores will require providing them an outward hint or indication for them to exert the effort, especially in an increasingly commoditized consumer electronics marketplace.
Best Buy, side 3/4 view, Champlain Centre, Plattsburg, New York
Therefore, due in part to a lack of conviction to a new “clean sheet” design and a half-hearted roll-out, Best Buy will likely continue to battle customer perceptions that little has changed, since from the outset, everything remains the same.
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