Faced with selling highly commoditized items that in some categories are seeing declining sales, Best Buy is beefing up its customer service, expanding store associate training and enhancing the capabilities of its Geek Squad tech support team, CEO Hubert Joly said Tuesday in a conference call with analysts.
Joly told Fortune that Best Buy is uniquely positioned to help consumers navigate the increasing complexity of today's technological landscape. “The pace of innovation (in tech) is very extraordinary but for the customers it’s a bit confusing knowing what to buy,” Joly said Tuesday. “There is a growing gap between what technology can do and what we as consumers understand what technology can do.”
Joly also took pains to tell analysts that as Best Buy continues its efforts to “establish a lean culture,” adding “I want to stress that this is not an isolated short-term cost reduction program... This approach requires collaboration across teams and fractions and we are building the organizational capabilities, mindset and habits necessary to sustain changes.”
Though Best Buy beat expectations for its first quarter, Joly also said this week that it would rein in guidance for the second quarter and the full year: Sales of smartphones are saturated, tablets are not the runaway product many thought they’d be, and bigger-ticket consumer electronics like televisions are falling in price.
Joly and his team say the answer is brick-and-mortar stores. “[T]he stores have a critical role in the growth, not only of our store channel, but the e-com channel,” CFO Sharon McCollam said on the call, “We have been making it easier and easier for us to convert a customer where there maybe something that may not be in a store and they want it in the stores, our Blue Shirts are doing a remarkable job of converting that order in the store which turns into an online order.”
Joly added “Year-over-year, our Geek Squad agents also drove more customer interactions across our channels and helped more customers use and enjoy their technology products.”
The challenge for Best Buy, and for other players in the home services space—like Ron Johnson’s Enjoy effort—is that Amazon has also expanded its own Home Services unit, although it depends on third-parties to fulfill its goals. That could an opportunity for Best Buy, which aims to have its own, well-trained employees do the work in stores and in customers' homes. Still, unless Best Buy can become that lean machine it’s aiming to be, and leverage its stores for fulfillment and an enhanced customer experience, it will continue to have trouble with declining traffic and sales.
Best Buy reported first-quarter earnings of $229 million, up from $129 million a year-ago. Revenue fell to $8.44 billion from $8.56 billion year over year, besting analyst expectations of $8.29 billion. Best Buy shares nevertheless dropped after the electronics chain released a soft profit forecast for the current quarter and announced that McCollam will step down, with 16-year Best Buy veteran and Chief Strategic Growth Officer Corie Barry replacing her as CFO.