By Carmine Gallo
This might surprise some journalists, but many people still shop in physical stores. In the area of consumer electronics, 80 percent of category revenue is generated from in-store shopping. Best Buy is a key player, attracting 600 million visits to its stores each year.
Many Best Buy customers shopping for a new PC this holiday season will be surprised by the new look and feel of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system. "Live tiles" are the centerpiece of the experience. The vivid and animated tiles fill the screen and are built for multi-touch compatible computers (although you can still navigate live tiles with a mouse on a non-touch screen).
My wife, Vanessa, is in the market for a new PC. When she saw the live tiles on an Internet site she said, "What is that? Am I going to have to learn a completely new system?"
Vanessa's concern is very common among consumers who are now faced with a radical update to an operating system. If Vanessa had walked into Best Buy with me recently, she would have been put at ease. A specially trained Best Buy employee led me through the new look, explained my options, and showed me how easy it is to alternate between a traditional desktop look and the live tiles.
This week I spoke to Jason Bonfig, merchant vice president for computing at Best Buy. Bonfig told me that Best Buy had invested 50,000 hours worth of training to bring employees up to speed. The training involved selected blue shirt employees, Geek Squad consultants, and employees designated Microsoft Advisors who will also be available at many locations.
"When customers go through an OS transition, they want to touch and feel the product," Bonfig said. "They want to be able to talk to someone who is knowledgeable, who can ask them questions, and match them with the products that best meets their needs."
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Windows 8 Experience Tables
The Windows 8 launch gives Best Buy a golden opportunity to prove its value to customers who are increasingly purchasing their products online. My wife is a good example. Before Windows 8, she probably would have ordered a new PC online. But now she wants to understand the new operating system, learn the difference between a laptop where she can swipe her finger across the screen and the ones where she can't, and how each of the new systems look and feel.
Best Buy locations have set up Windows 8 "Experience Tables" staffed with knowledgeable, friendly, employees who have gone through far more training than they have for previous product launches. According to Bonfig, "We've trained employees to take on the spectrum of questions, from basic to advanced. Our employees also trained to understand the new features of Windows 8 that will bring the most value to our customers."
I've interacted with several Best Buy employees who didn't know I was working on a story about the experience table. As an author who has written about the Apple Store's "5 Steps of Service," I had very high expectations. I was delighted to find Best Buy employees who were generous with their time and committed to making sure I had a great experience with the new products. They asked questions to gauge my experience with PC's and to assess my comfort level. With one employee, I chose to act completely confused at seeing the live tiles on the screen. He picked up on my concern and immediately showed me how easy it was — with one click — to bring back the desktop screen. This act alone will allay the concerns of many customers.
Best Buy fights showrooming
Best Buy executives acknowledge that a growing number of customers like to "showroom," comparing products at a store and purchasing them online to save money. Best Buy has launched several initiatives to fight this trend.
First, they have priced products to be competitive to online retailers. They believe customers — once assured Best Buy will match the price for an identical laptop, desktop or tablet they find online — will want to buy the product in-store and take it home right away.
Second, Best Buy has introduced 45 exclusive products. These are products like the Lenovo "Yoga" mobile computer — a fully functioning 13-inch notebook with Intel chip that folds flat into a 13-inch tablet as well. The Yoga is an example of a Best Buy platform exclusive; customers will not find the exact design or shape anywhere else.
Third, Best Buy has included a program called "Walk Out Working" and offers it free with the purchase of a Windows 8 computer. The process takes about 15 minutes. A Greek Squad specialist will power on the computer, walk a customer through a first-time user setup, install security software, set up email, and schedule operating system updates.
Fourth, customers will receive a Geek Squad guide to windows 8; a short, helpful guide that outlines the five features of Windows 8 that are little different than what PC customers are used to (where to access the start screen or how to shut down the computer).
Fifth, Best Buy has produced a series of short videos called 2-minute miracles to show customers some of the cool stuff they can do on their new computer.
According to Best Buy executives I've talked to, Windows 8 is creating an unprecedented wave of innovation across products and platforms. But they are the kind of products that people need to see and touch. Customers need help making sense of all the products available. Some computer customers know exactly what they want. But many don't. In fact, millions of customers need a little extra help.
Best Buy believes it can stay relevant and valuable by offering the widest choice of PCs, convenience, competitive pricing, service and support (Geek Squad) and now friendly, knowledgeable employees who can make the transition a lot more enjoyable.
RCE blogger Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker, and author of "The Apple Experience."
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