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A branded in-store shop is helping Best Buy dial in a bigger share of the mobile communications business.
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Posted August 10, 2009
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Problem: While Best Buy may be the country’s largest consumer electronics retailer, its share of the wireless communications market was nothing to call home about.

Solution: The new Best Buy Mobile in-store shop assembles all the manufacturers’ brands in an easy-to-navigate environment.

The cell phone and wireless communications market continues to grow, driven by constant improvements to existing technology. But Best Buy, though the leading consumer electronics retailer in the nation, had just a 3 percent share of that market. It was losing business to the dedicated Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T stores.

“U.S. cell phone shoppers have been trained to shop by carrier,” says Chris Brandewie, creative lead of the new Best Buy Mobile concept. “If they want AT&T service, for example, they think they have to go to an AT&T store.”

But Best Buy had learned, through its 2008 merger with Carphone Warehouse, Britain’s largest independent mobile phone retailer, that it could reverse that mindset by creating a branded in-store shop. The goal was to make Best Buy the authoritative provider of service, equipment and information – and make the wireless buying experience a little less painful.

“Cell phone buying is time-consuming, confusing and complex,” says Brandewie, “and it’s only likely to get more so as these products add more functions and applications.” Best Buy felt it could play off its strengths in the marketplace: the breadth of its product selections and the knowledge of its sales staff.

The new Best Buy Mobile in-store shop concept (modeled after Carphone Warehouse’s in-store shops in the U.K.) brings all the major brands together in one area of the store with an elevated boutique look and feel – sleek and high-tech, but also intimate and comfortable. “Shoppers have to feel they’re crossing a boundary into a different experience,” says Brandewie.

The 600- to 800-square-foot shops, typically installed in the front of Best Buy big box stores, are marked by sleek wood and metal fixtures holding the phones; plinths at the gateway to the shops displaying the newest offerings (like, currently, the Palm Pre); and large consultative stations so a Best Buy sales associate can sit down comfortably with a customer and answer questions, make recommendations and, ultimately, close the sale – not just sell a piece of hardware but also open an account, do the necessary credit and background checks and activate the customer’s service.

Prominent signage does double duty, establishing the Best Buy brand while also communicating the availability of all the individual brands – including the latest variations and versions – and the special deals, too. “We emphasize that if Sprint is making a special offer,” says Brandewie, “the shopper can get the same deal here as at the Sprint store.”

The initial phase installed these shops in more than 1000 existing Best Buy locations in just six months. Long-time Best Buy fixture supplier Triad Manufacturing (St. Louis) was able to meet the stringent timetable because it has wood and metal capabilities under one roof. Triad also value engineered the project, replacing the stainless steel Best Buy had asked for with an environmentally friendly trivalent chrome-plated brushed steel that’s 30 percent less expensive and also doesn’t show fingerprints as much as stainless does.

“With the amount of handling and testing these units were going to get, the fingerprint test was very important,” says Darren Marty, Triad’s vp of sales, “but we didn’t want to sacrifice the quality look Best Buy was after.” So Triad showed Best Buy designers two versions of the fixture in a blind test – one stainless, one plated – and Marty says the designers gravitated toward the plated version.

The shops have been so successful that Best Buy is opening a chain of stand-alone Best Buy Mobile stores around the country. And ceo Brian Dunn recently announced that Best Buy is on its way to a 15 percent share of the U.S. mobile-phone market.