Best Buy bounces back
Retailer defies the odds and rebounds in the face of Amazon supremacy
Five years ago Best Buy Co. looked like a retail dinosaur, another victim of e-commerce juggernaut Amazon.com and other online sellers.
The big-box electronics chain was suffering dwindling sales and profits in good part because of “showrooming,” when shoppers would come in to a Best Buy store to check out televisions, computers and other items in person, and then buy them at cheaper prices on Amazon or elsewhere online.
Best Buy also was struggling with executive turmoil and facing a buyout threat from a major stockholder. The chain in 2012 named a new chief executive, Hubert Joly, but the Frenchman came from the hospitality field and had no retail experience. His appointment stunned analysts, with one saying that fixing Best Buy was “a Herculean task even for an accomplished retail executive.”
But Joly has proved up to the task so far. Under his turnaround plan, Best Buy has rebounded to remain a major U.S. retailer that’s holding its own in the face of Amazon’s relentless growth and the retail industry’s slump.
Best Buy “came out the other side successfully to defend itself against Amazon,” said Peter Keith, an analyst with the investment firm Piper Jaffray & Co.
Best Buy still operates 1,600 outlets, and Joly views the stores as “a great asset” even as Best Buy also moves increasingly to online sales.
“We don’t see ourselves as a brick-and-mortar retailer, we’re a multi-channel retailer” that combines the stores, Best Buy’s website and its phone app to boost sales, Joly said in an interview. And he’s planning to expand Best Buy’s services, including its Geek Squad support arm, to generate more product sales.
Best Buy’s sales and profit have stabilized and its stock price has soared more than fourfold since late 2012, far outpacing the broader market.
The company’s same-store sales — that is, sales at stores open at least 14 months, and a key retail measure — have continued to rise modestly the last three years, reversing four years of declines.
Its domestic same-store sales edged up 0.3 per cent in its fiscal year that ended Jan. 28, then jumped 1.6 per cent in its first quarter, which ended April 29.
Best Buy’s U.S. online sales rose 21 per cent in fiscal 2017 and accounted for US$4.85 billion, or 12 per cent, of Best Buy’s total sales.
But Best Buy’s overall annual revenue has remained flat because the consumer-electronics industry as a whole is growing less than 3 per cent a year, according to some analysts.
That’s keeping pressure on Best Buy, based in Richfield, Minn., to keep wringing more profit from each dollar of revenue if it hopes to maintain its momentum. Joly already has shown it can be done.
His first move was to match rivals’ prices, especially those at Amazon, so that in-store shoppers no longer needed to buy elsewhere. “We had no choice, we had to take price off the table and match online prices,” Joly said.
That appeals to customers such as Scott Vellman of Los Angeles, who bought the “Battlefield 1” video game at a Best Buy store after Best Buy matched its $50 price on Amazon. “I bought it here (instead of online) because I didn’t want to wait for it to ship,” Vellman said.
Best Buy next sped up its delivery times, in part by expanding its national distribution centres, and beefed up its website and phone app so that customers could order online and pick up their products at the stores or have them delivered.
Many of the DVDs and CDs that once were a staple of Best Buy stores were cleared out, leaving room for Best Buy to invite such electronics vendors as Samsung, Microsoft and Verizon to set up “stores within the stores” inside Best Buy’s outlets.
“That enabled Samsung, for instance, to have 1,400 stores in the U.S. in our stores, which would have taken years to build” on its own, Joly said.
The company plowed a chunk of the savings into better training its employees so that they can explain products to shoppers, which Joly believed was crucial because new technology often is confusing to many consumers.
Best Buy, with 125,000 employees, “has done an excellent job improving customer service,” Keith said in a recent note to clients.
Best Buy’s stock price has soared more than fourfold since late 2012, while rival electronics chain RadioShack has filed for bankruptcy protection.