I’ll be honest. The last time I stepped inside a Best Buy was to hold in my hands a mirrorless camera I ended up buying on Amazon. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there to have done this. For years, Best Buy has had to defend its slipping market share in the consumer electronics space from the likes of encroaching online retailers. But their latest move looks like they may just be embracing their de facto role as a showroom.
The chain just announced they’re making space at 700 stores across the U.S. to showcase both the Amazon Alexa and Google Home voice-activated assistants. So anyone in the market for this kind of device can head over to Best Buy and try holding a conversation with both of them side-by-side.
“Smart home, especially voice technology, can meaningfully change and improve the way we live our lives,” said Amy College, senior vice president of merchandising at Best Buy, in an announcement. “In collaboration with Amazon and Google, these experiences will help people understand and use this groundbreaking technology to make their lives safer, easier and simply more fun.”
The partnership makes sense for Best Buy in a lot of ways. It blurs that fading line between the online and offline retail experience and highlights Best Buy’s one strength over the online retailers: that indispensable opportunity to touch and test a gadget before you shell out the money for it. And we can’t overlook the fact that it gives them an opening to upsell customers on complementary products like the Nest thermostat, Philips Hue lighting, and Insignia Smart Plug.
Interestingly, the move to partner with Amazon signals a departure from Best Buy’s long combative history with the online retail giant. We can’t be sure the swords have been sheathed just yet, but it does show Best Buy is willing to both play the offensive field and sit at the bargaining table when dealing with its competitors. They’ve already allocated floor space to brands like Apple and Windows so adding room for Amazon and Google just expands on their store-in-a-store concept.
And it’s easy to see why Best Buy needs to be experimenting with different strategies in dealing with Amazon. Last year, Amazon beat out Walmart to become the world’s second largest retailer of consumer electronics. And they’ve been gaining on Best Buy for first place spot ever since. Best Buy responded in kind with tactics of mixed success. They’ve reduced prices to better compete with Amazon as well as offer unique purchasing experiences. Most recently, they launched a “try before you buy” service on returned items that lets you rent electronics you may or may not want to keep permanently.
At least Wall Street is impressed with all the effort. In the past year, Best Buy’s stock gained 84 percent compared to the industry’s 64 percent. Driving that rosy outlook are some solid numbers around online sales growth and surprising quarterly earnings. It looks like Best Buy figured out their strategy for getting through to the internet-informed shopper.