Will Your Brand Be Up To The Challenge At Best Buy?

By Ben Smith

The basis of Retail Leverage “the blog” is Challenger Brand Strategy.  While we continue to find ways to illustrate the concept of Retail Leverage, we love when somebody provides a teaching example that is directly relevant, such as the recent BusinessWeek article about “Why Tech Bows To Best Buy”. The article provides an inside perspective of what Best Buy looks like in the post-apocalyptic environment after the demise of Circuit City.  I have a great deal of respect for Best Buy’s CEO, Brian Dunn, featured in the article, who seems reasonable and straight forward – which you’d expect somebody that worked their way up from Blue Shirt to CEO.  The essence of the article is that while Walmart and Amazon are worthy foes, Best Buy is the only large national consumer electronics player left standing and they plan on capitalizing on what makes them different.  However important Best Buy was before as part of the buying process – regardless of the final point of purchase – Best Buy is now ready to take advantage of its position.

If you are a challenger brand marketer (or an agency working with one) there are lots of takeaways.  I hope you read the article but the highlights from a Retail Leverage perspective are below:

1. If you aren’t collaborating with Best Buy on product development  you are behind.  The earlier you involve Best Buy in the process the better.  They already are with your competitors.

Rather than waiting for electronics makers to ship Best Buy the same products that its rivals get, Dunn’s lieutenants are walking factory floors with executives from companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, influencing product development and design.

2. Demonstrating (or demonstratability) of your product is increasing in importance.  This means you need to re-evaluate your in-aisle strategy to ensure your story is being told.

“We want to become a digital playground where people come in, experience it, try it, and find out how all these things can work together around their life,” says Dunn.

3. If Best Buy isn’t already competing with you, make the assumption they will be soon.  If not, your category probably isn’t a priority for them anyway.

“The company is already selling certain products in competition with suppliers, and will likely push other products off store shelves to make room for gear it’s developing. Best Buy’s new role makes it a kingmaker for companies that play along and a serious threat for those that refuse.  Executives at several major consumer electronics companies worry privately about Best Buy’s growing influence.  They’re concerned that Dunn and his team could block them from getting innovative products in front of customers or favor Best Buy-backed goods over their own.”

4. Pulling out of Best Buy is always an option.   Yeah right.  Maybe Apple could get away with it.  Maybe.  Anybody else – good luck.  I wish HP would try – ha!  Realizing this, know that even the strongest competitors in your category realize the power that Best Buy has and go great lengths to accomodate them.  You need to be willing to go farther.

“Apple, Sony, and other manufacturers could retaliate if they feel Best Buy is getting too heavy-handed, although they would think long and hard before doing so. They could pull products out of the retailer’s stores or forge closer relationships with rivals such as Wal-Mart.”

5. Reiterating the importance of product demonstratability / comparisons at Best Buy:

Dunn strolled into a store in Union Square to check out the company’s new “discovery zones.” In the Best Buy Mobile zone, for instance, dozens of customers were checking out how Motorola’s new Droid smartphone stacks up against Apple’s iPhone. Although it’s too early to tell whether the strategy that lets users try out multiple brands in one place will goose sales and create a more loyal following, Dunn nods approvingly. “What we’re able to do is show how all these things can work together,” he says. “Convergence is actually here now, and all those roads will lead through the center of our store.”

6. Start embracing Best Buy as a technology company – as a partner and competitor.  This isn’t just a fad like customer centricity.  Buzz Jill and Ray were useful but “partnering” is a strategy with much larger ramifications.  It means they’ll either get what they need from you, your competitor, or just make it Private Label.  They have more leverage than ever before.

“The job of knowing just how far Best Buy can push before manufacturing partners push back falls in large part to Kal Patel, executive vice-president for emerging business. Former CEO Anderson hired Patel away from the consulting firm Strategos in 2003 to direct the retailer’s strategy, and Dunn has given him broad leeway to transform Best Buy into a technology company. Patel suggests, unapologetically, that Best Buy and its partners will have to get used to a new relationship. “If you’re in the technology business, we’re going to have to learn to deal with constant conflict,” he says.”

7. If you have an annuity stream strongly consider using it as leverage to let Best Buy make you a king like Kaspersky.  Just be careful that you don’t make a deal that doesn’t allow you to live once they decide to make someone else king.

“PC makers are concerned the retailer is trying to grab more of their scant profit pool.  They may be right. One unusual deal Best Buy has struck is with the antivirus company Kaspersky Lab. The Moscow-based company agreed to let Best Buy manage its software and subscription program in exchange for more prominent placement in stores, says Randy Drawas, Kaspersky’s chief marketing officer. “We get a broader footprint within Best Buy and are seen as a premium brand,” he says. Best Buy salesmen promote Kaspersky’s software, and the retailer gets a slice of the revenues when customers use it. PC makers, though, may lose out on revenues as software from rivals such as McAfee are stripped off machines.”

8. You may be able to get leverage in your category by making Best Buy’s new in-store media network a priority for a chunk of your marketing dollars.  I don’t think it has ever hurt with the buyer to support a retailer’s key initiatives – especially those around getting you to shift some of your marketing dollars to their programs.

Best Buy plans to launch its own advertising business early next year. The company will let movie studios, PC makers, and other companies run trailers, songs, or commercials on the thousands of televisions, PCs, and cell phones within its stores. Sony, Toshiba, and Samsung have already signed on to advertise.


All in all, Best Buy is more important than ever before – regardless of where the consumer actually purchases the product.  Best Buy will still make money on the traditional one-time sale of your product.  Now they will ensure they get a piece of any annuity, and they also are covering their bets by monetizing the advertising and showroom experience – so that even if the consumer buys elsewhere, they still get their cut.  They are doubling down on the digital playground experience as this is one of the few vectors that would be hard for Walmart to beat them on, because they will never win on price vs. Walmart.

If you are in consumer electronics you need to be able to win at Best Buy before you can think of winning at Walmart.  Otherwise you simply aren’t relevant.  If you want to learn about how to gain Retail Leverage in an environment like Best Buy, we suggest you check out some of our ideas here, and then start following us so you can get our latest and greatest.

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