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How Best Buy Is Saving Itself

The consumer technology company is doing things differently

23Nov

Best Buy is still in the process of rebuilding its reputation. Black Friday is fast approaching, and the company's CEO, Hubert Joly, will be hoping that it's as successful as last year's annual free-for-all.

For many years Christmas had not been a time of celebration for Best Buy. The company had become the epitome of America's floundering tech-retail market and sales were down. In 2014, however, the company picked up. The holiday shopping season was the company's strongest sales performance for some time, prompting Scott Galloway, Marketing Professor at NYU Stern to say: 'Best Buy is one of the most impressive turnarounds in retail over the last decade,' reserving special praise for the company's willingness to take on Amazon, the company responsible for many unhappy Christmases in the retail world.

The turnaround mentioned by Galloway is a result of the chain redesigning each of its 1,433 stores, and a revamped employee training process - resembling more of a boot camp than a couple of days watching training videos. They've managed to triple their stock valuation since December 2012, a time considered a nadir for the retailer. The company knows there’s a lot of work ahead. The threat of Amazon is never far away, and for sustained success, Best Buy needs to continually find ways to differentiate itself.

The Internet of Things is a great opportunity to do just that. Not only are IoT products becoming a big seller, the company is also putting emphasis on customer support systems. Jen Wieczner in Fortune states: 'its tech experts make some 4 million house calls a year to help customers rig up their systems—service that Best Buy’s closest competitors, Walmart and Amazon, do not offer.' In-store advice is also plentiful. Founded in 2012, Best Buy's 'Geek Squad' - its version of Apple's 'Geniuses' - offer around the clock care, and are present at over 1,100 best buy stores.

Best Buy's CEO is noted for his eagerness to promote women to board level positions. According to Fortune, 90% of the company's operations are run by women, a unique characteristic among the world's biggest companies. Hubert Joly even went as far to say: 'If it had been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers, maybe it would not have been the catastrophe that it was.' And Joly clearly feels that much of Best Buy's turnaround has been caused by gender diversity.

This year's Black Friday preparations have been thorough. Test runs have been commonplace, with employees quizzed on their store knowledge so that they can point customers in the right place without a moment's hesitation. Yet amid the positivity, the same fears are rearing their head. Recent forecasts point to a tepid holiday shopping season, with sluggish wage growth and an uninspiring selection of popular tech products available culminating in an uninspiring forecasted picture.

The company is unlikely to reach its pre-Amazon heights - it has closed its operations in China and Europe after all - but the fact it's survived is testament to the company's ability to adapt in difficult periods.

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