Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Buzz Bites Back: Where Best Buy Failed

Unfortunately, it isn’t all wine and roses in the land of the blue and the yellow. While Best Buy had earned quite a reservoir of goodwill with our appliance purchases (and our subsequent small electronics buys), they managed to do just about everything wrong when I went to buy a car stereo.

Bad Experience part 1: Nobody home
If you’ve never shopped for a car stereo at Best Buy, this is what it feels like: you walk up to a series of walls that have car stereos mounted on them. The prices range from $125-500, and you can see what each unit’s interface looks like with the power off. The prices seem somewhat, but not completely, dependent on things like power, inputs, etc. There is a good deal of random variance.

With nobody nearby to help me, I make the best guess about what I need: a manufacturer I like, my minimum requirements (output, iPod, etc). Then, I proceed to look for the corresponding box among the inventory. But there’s a problem: it’s not there. Actually, that’s a normal problem. My problem is a bit more unusual – none of the options on the wall are there for purchase. The options available for purchase are not on the wall. There is no way to know what the products that I can actually buy cost.

So, fine. I need help. Despite being there for about ten minutes completely alone, none of the helpful people have shown up, so I ask someone from a different department to get someone. They promise to. Another 10 minutes pass, so I ask the same thing from the info/help desk. Finally, someone shows up to explain to me that they have last year’s model up in display, and the current models that you can buy. He helps me find a unit in my range, and tells me that they could set up an installation for me a week away, or I could come by on Sunday morning, which is first-come first-serve. Sunday is good for me.

Bad Experience part 2: How $50 = $180, and adventures in waiting.
Sunday morning. I show up early, and am the second person in line. After the shop opens, the one employee there –let’s call him Trevor-- spends about 45 minutes doing something akin to mis en place. Eventually, he talks to us, has us fill out forms, and gives us our estimate. Me: 3 hours (really?). In the store, my install was advertised as $50. However, here in the grimy world of actual installations, Trevor informs me the price has risen. In addition to the $50 (labor), there are two $20 parts that I will need. iPod “installation” adds a $30 part, and another $20 labor. Incredibly, there was also an $8 “parts fee.” Literally, a charge for buying things from them! I’m still not sure how this all added up to $180, but somehow it did.

Bad Experience part 3: Get it Yourself
But wait. It turns out that they don’t have the iPod cable in stock in the shop. Trevor suggests I check inside the store, but neglects to unlock the door from the shop so I can get it. Grudgingly, and only after I mention that I don’t want to walk the circumference of the building to look in the section of the store that is right on the other side of the door, he lets me through.

Turns out, they don’t have it inside the store either. Trevor suggests I hoof it over to another store in the strip mall to pick it up, and “if they don’t have it, Circuit City will.” After a quick walk to discover that the nearby shop is closed, I was left facing the choice of walking a considerable distance to Circuit City, or going iPod-less (or, trying to disassemble/reassemble the stereo later). With this in mind, as well as the fact that the Best Buy install shop has been open now for well over an hour, and nobody’s car has undergone anything resembling “work,” I decide to ask Trevor for my keys back. Though slightly puzzled, he doesn't seem to mind at all.

So, what can be learned here?
  1. Updates aren't just for websites. Leaving the old stereos on display after the new ones were in stock created a very poor contextual experience, leaving me without even the most basic and critical of purchasing information (price). Additionally, since there was no way to interact with the stereos (as there is for so many of their other products), even mounting them on the wall served little purpose.
  2. Implement changes throughout your service lines. It was painfully clear that automotive stereo was a service line unto itself. If Trevor had heard of Buzz and Carrie, I’d be shocked.
  3. Set proper expectations. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, so I was prepared for some addition to the cost of my stereo installation. But a final price that is 350% of the original price is hard to swallow.
  4. Experience doesn’t end at the sale. Nothing says you don’t care about customers like literally telling them to take a hike.
  5. Ownership matters. Trevor didn't own a single part of that experience. It was, like, whatever. In the real world, just as in the web world, if nobody owns the customer experience, it is likely to be a poor one.
  6. Be fair. While the whole experience was unpleasant, the part that really galled me was the $8 “parts fee.” For that small amount of money, they removed any doubt whatsoever that once they made the sale of a stereo, their goal was to see just how much money they could extract from a customer in a vulnerable state. That $8, more than anything else, cost them not just my business but my goodwill – there is no way to attribute that to just one bad employee or off day.

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