Best Buy’s Black Friday Game Changer

27 Nov

            On a day when Best Buy reluctantly followed the retail pack, they may have come out a leader and changed the rules.  When Wal-Mart, Target, and other big box competitors announced earlier this fall that they would open on midnight of Black Friday, Best Buy brought up the rear.  In the end, it may have been Best Buy that had an extra piece of Thanksgiving pie.

Figure 1 - Back Friday shoppers outside a Best Buy in Eden Prairie, MN. (Courtesy KMSP-TV)

            Best Buy not only changed its Black Friday tactics at the last moment, it brilliantly redefined the customer experience that may force its competitors to change how they too look at Black Friday.   What Best Buy did was to take a cold, mundane parking lot camp-out and turn it into a festival.  At its store in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, store employees set up a giant projection screen in the parking lot and showed Harry Potter-7 to entertain the hundreds of shoppers waiting in line.  But there was also another gift: Best Buy stocking caps and matching scarves.  And, in a classy move, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn even arrived to greet customers and personally thank them for their loyalty.

            The tactics were not missed by Fox 9 News reporter Jody Ambroz.  “These shoppers are becoming big fans of Best Buy because of the way they’re getting treated out here,” Ambroz reported.

            The moves by Best Buy were strategic in three ways.  First, they let the customers know they were valued.  Second, the caps and scarves branded the entire line of campers for the television news cameras. (Figure 1)  Third, it let every news viewer at home know they were missing out on the fun, not just the deals.  Best Buy created a whole new value proposition.  The implicit message to consumers everywhere was this:  why camp out somewhere else, when you can party at Best Buy?

Figure 2 - YTD Stock Performance for Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Target, and DJIA

            In many respects Best Buy had no choice.  In a hyper-competitive market, Best Buy is fighting for every dollar—especially in a year when it closed its UK stores and is shifting its retail strategy to sell more mobile technology.  Its stock is down 25% for the year and performing well behind Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Target. (Figure 2)  Allowing even a small percentage of rabid shoppers to spend what little recession-shrunken dollars they have left at a competitor five hours before Best Buy traditionally opens on Black Friday was simply not an option.

            Dunn telegraphed as much in a recent blog post when he said, “It is the most important holiday selling season ever. And it will be the most hard-fought holiday season – maybe in our history.”

            There is one remarkable aspect to what Best Buy did for Black Friday.  Somewhere, someone deep inside headquarters said the customer experience was as important as profits.  Just as remarkable, someone else listened.  Both won.  Best Buy’s Black Friday competitors are now on notice.  Game on.

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