In May, Best Buy will begin "consultation services" in about 200 U.S. stores, where customers will be able to schedule appointments, according to a corporate blog post Tuesday. Each customer will have a dedicated sales associate, so there will be a limited number of people in the store "at any one time to ensure appropriate social distancing," the company said.
That followed a notice to customers from CEO Corie Barry, saying that Best Buy's Geek Squad and third-party delivery, repair and support teams are back on the job, going to people's homes, after those services were suspended for more than a month. The company is using "protective equipment, social distancing practices and employee self-health checks," and following "safety guidelines before, during and after an in-home visit that meet or exceed CDC guidance."
The electronics retailer had closed stores to customers despite being designated essential in most jurisdictions, but for about a month has continued contactless curbside pickup from stores as well as online fulfillment, according to Barry's post, which was also sent as a customer email.
Best Buy, like Chico's earlier this week, is taking early steps to resume business after a quiet April when cities and states instituted stay-at-home orders and shut down most retail in an effort to slow down the COVID-19 pandemic.
The electronics retailer has had some advantages, notably that consumers have needed and wanted equipment for their newfound work-from-home situations and their desire to pass the time with entertainment like gaming. Best Buy website visits in March for "Nintendo Switch," for example, rose 250% from February, "which established the gaming device as the top product on Best Buy," according to research from SimilarWeb. In the period, laptop searches rose 23% month over month, and traffic from "webcam" searches was five times greater than the same search in February, according to the report, which was emailed to Retail Dive.
But the momentum hasn't lasted. "[W]hile the pandemic initially sparked demand for high-ticket items such as laptops, Best Buy is now facing a sales slump as demand weakens," SimilarWeb also said.
While Barry took care to emphasize the company's attention to safety and health, such a slump may explain the move to get its Geek Squad services going again. Customer service, both in stores and homes, has been a major differentiator for Best Buy, whose merchandise can be found at many other retailers, including Amazon. Some Geek Squad services like tech support have continued remotely, she noted.
She also said that rival companies had not been so conservative while the pandemic surged. "It was with safety in mind that more than a month ago we suspended the part of our business that typically works in customers' homes more than a million times a year," she wrote. "We did this despite being designated essential and even as others continued to deliver, install and repair in homes. Simply put, we made this decision because we could not look our employees — or you — in the eye and say we knew fully how to do this work safely."
Her comments underscore the challenge for retailers in deciding whether and how to reopen, at a time when the disease's trajectory remains uncertain.