Monday, November 20, 2006

Best Buy’s Best Practice?

Mastering multichannel is a priority for most retailers I’ve interviewed over the last year. But Best Buy—a multichannel master if there ever was one—may just have taken it too far, in my opinion.

In a new strategy in select markets—Lincoln, Neb., among them—the chain has set aside preferred parking places for on-line shoppers. Premium parking spaces, surpassed in front-door proximity only by the requisite handicapped slots, have been reserved for on-line customers who have specified in-store pickup.

A smart move, you say?

Consider this: On a busy—and rainy—Saturday, the Best Buy parking lot was full to bursting. The only available slots were located at the back of the lot—a daunting distance from the store. My son and I were forced to slosh through the rain, passing by two empty upfront spaces expressly reserved for on-line shoppers. Not only did I feel resentful that we were being denied use of convenient, and available, parking, but I seriously question the wisdom of giving on-line customers preferential treatment over their off-line counterparts.

After all, my son and I went to far more trouble to buy Best Buy’s products—driving across town in the elements as opposed to walking our fingers across the keys in the comfort of home. And we succumbed to several end-cap displays, adding soft drinks and other impulse items to our original purchase intent—something far more likely to happen in-store than on line.

I understand that Best Buy is attempting to thread its on-line presence to its bricks-and-mortar brand, as well as add another dimension to the Internet shopping experience. But to do that at the expense of the comfort and convenience of the off-line shopper is more than a little risky.

— Kataherine Field