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O.K., suspend your disbelief just for a moment and hear me out…

In 1999, Joe Pine and James Gilmore, authors of "The Experience Economy" predicted that we were entering an era where intense commoditization of goods left retailers with only one alternative — the need to design and stage unique and memorable experiences that are so good they justify charging an admission. So far, this hasn’t really materialized beyond the gates of Disney World, but the question is, has the time finally arrived?

One can’t help but wonder if embattled electronics retailer Best Buy might not be the canary in the coalmine to test Pine and Gilmore’s theory in the real world. Could Best Buy reinvent such an extraordinary closed-door, online/offline, electronics shopping experience that it could justify a per-visit admission or perhaps an annual membership fee?

But let’s be clear. I’m not talking about adding a few part-timers to the sales floor at peak hours. And I don’t mean shouting an overly enthusiastic, and mandated “Hi!” at every customer entering the store. I’m talking about something way, way beyond that — something truly unusual, revolutionary and transformative. And I’m also not suggesting charging some nominal, apologetic, nuisance fee. I’m talking about an amount great enough that it does two things; creates significant customer expectations of the experience they’re going to be getting and also drives significant revenue for Best Buy. Ever hear anyone say they felt ripped off at Disney World? Me neither. Disney World isn’t cheap and a mind-blowing shopping experience shouldn’t be either.

So, back to my question. Could Best Buy offer an experience worth paying for. Could they offer:

  • First-look access at manufacturer prototype products?
  • Guaranteed access to new model introductions?
  • Exclusive brand launch party access?
  • Trade-in programs and incentives?
  • Super-experiential displays and product sets?
  • Member-only tech test-drive programs?
  • Access to super-high-end and more rare products and services for the true tech freak?
  • A completely connected and personalized experience using the mobile device as the tether?

Could Best Buy pull it off? Or perhaps the more pressing question is, do they even have a choice in the matter?

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Paul Bumblauskas
    38811044
    What an interesting perspective. In my opinion they are not even in control of having the option. They have no choice but to try. But their success depends on the parties they are negotiating with on each of the bullet points. I think that competitors will have a real problem if manufacturers give these kind of rights to Best Buy over others. And, take a look at the companies they have no chance with- Apple? Anyone that is big at Amazon? Others? Once you carve out the "no chance deals" I think that what is left are very weak manufacturers. And, Best Buys ability to identify future growth products and services is a little suspect- but maybe their best chance is to support growth companies. But, I am thinking this may be over for Best Buy. Given any scenario they now need to totally restructure or re-deploy all of their real estate deals- I am sure that the rents are over market. Maybe they are already doing this. Thanks for the article.
  • jamon heller
    38736725
    Build-A-Bear Workshop is an example of a unique and memorable retail experience worthy of the type described by The Experience Economy authors.
  • Andrew Beard
    38719435
    This seems like a ludicrous idea to me. Having worked for close to ten years at a Top 50 internet retailer, I tried to avoid the retail store setting at all costs. Consumers going to Best Buy are either looking for a quick transaction or specialized service, both with out hassles. Best Buy would be better inclined to go the Apple Genius route and have dedicated experts who can schedule appointments and create a more personalized and professional experience. Best Buy also needs to do better integration of their store and online purchasing opportunities.
  • Bill Matthies
    38710130
    Anything is possible, so yes, they could try. Would it work? I don't think so, at least not initially and maybe ever. Their brand as a technology destination site is much too damaged to assume that it would work. They must first attempt to regain the confidence of those they wish to attract and their ability to do that is much in doubt regardless of the cost to walk through the front door.
  • Mike Wittenstein
    38667738
    Great thinking, Doug! To do better, sometimes brands have to be different. The project you described sounds so good, I'd like to work on it!
  • Eric Ellis
    38651858
    The idea can be executed this way. Charge $2 to enter, the same $2 gets credited to your Best Buy Card. If you showroom, we get your $2 entry fee, if you buy you get your money back as a credit toward your purchase online or in-store. Furthermore, to bring back better in-store service, simply create "stores" within a store that are manned buy individual manufacturers! The "Bose Store" the "HP Store" the "Samsung Store" would all have a shot at making their proposition directly. Add a Starbucks and voila! you are experienced! #EmbraceWhatYouARE
  • Jeff Kussard
    38638352
    Keep it simple - as a 37 year industry vet I am far more knowledgable of products and technologies than most consumers. But, even I'd be willing to pay if BBY could just hook me up one on one with a knowledgable sales CONSULTANT. One who actually has deep knowledge of all the brands, products and technologies in the store. Tall order - I know. As a compromise I'd settle for department based experts who would hand me off from one dept to another. But always one on one. In the 70s we provided that kind of expertise and attention. If you couldn't you didn't belong in the business But in the Big Box world of today THAT kind of knowledge and attention to the customer would be worth an admission fee.
  • Lee Kent
    38630021
    I would offer another twist. I have been looking to see BB do some kind of store within a store concept funded/manned partially by the manufacturers. Like Department store cosmetic counters of old. After all it is the manufacturers product and BB is just getting their margin for retailing it. This would bring those that want to look at the product into the store and could buy it anywhere and not matter to the manufacturer. BB would then offer services that complement the products that they could upcharge for. I can see this is being compelling to the consumer on several levels and like My friend Mike Wittenstein, i would love to work on it too!
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Retail Prophet

Latest posts by Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
Retail futurist, Doug Stephens is an in-demand speaker for private and public sector audiences across North America on the mega-trends shaping a new era of retailing and consumerism. His thinking has influenced many of North America's best-known brands. Doug is a regular guest expert on the CTV television series App Central TV and media contact on trends in the retail landscape.
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