business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB posted a letter from a reader talking about a bad customer experience his son had at Best Buy, in which the online experience was completely divorced from the in-store experience. Which led me to write:

I don’t mean to be harsh here, but companies that pretend not to understand how the world works in 2012 - or worse, don’t know how the world works when it comes to how consumers shop - are morons. They’re guilty of retail malpractice. And they have no right to survive. (And, in the end, little likelihood.)

Interestingly, this generated a bunch of emails from people who had a very different experience.

One reader offered:

Interesting story in "your views" on the Best Buy experience.  Mine was the opposite.  I went in the store to buy a new car stereo for my children's vehicle for Christmas.  The price was lower (which I didn't know) and the sales person automatically processed a "price match" for the lower price.  Don't assume the company doesn't understand how the world works; it may have been poor training or poor hiring that was the problem . . . . not the company and their policies.

Another MNB user wrote:

Before we totally throw Best Buy under the bus for being out of touch, I would like to share that my daughter and I had the complete opposite experience last week.  We were shopping for an iPod and she had checked their online pricing before going to the store.  When the price was $20 more in store, we asked an associate about the price difference and she said they will match their online pricing.  In fact she told us they had a computer kiosk by their customer service area so customers could price check any competitor or their own online pricing.  Pretty cool, huh?

Is it possible that Best Buy is guilty of a training issue vs. a bad customer service policy?   Very possible.

From another MNB user:

My recent experience at my local Best Buy was completely the opposite.  I was using my Android Smartphone to compare prices on an item that I wanted at Best Buy.  The retail in the Best Buy retail store was 199.99, Amazon was 159.99 and Best Buy on line was 149.99.  I asked the store associate in the store in they could match this price.  He told me them could and escorted me to the front check out.  As he explained to the cashier what to do, one of the managers overheard the conversation and gave me an additional 5% off.   I was very happy with Best Buy.

MNB user Catherine Storer wrote:

As a manager of customer service, I was appalled by what transpired at Best Buy this past holiday season.  I purchased a remote car starter for my folks for Christmas. Not knowing exactly what else would be needed for the install, I deferred any other installation purchases until checking with the folks.  Once the gift was well received, I found out what else was needed and proceeded to purchase that package.  I was told that I could ONLY do it at the store where the installation was taking place  (my parents live 2 hrs away) and that I could NOT pay for it over the phone.  I spoke to few different employees at Best Buy and they also confirmed.  What kind of customer service is this that in this day and age, a purchase cannot be paid for over the phone ? ??  As luck would have it, I was heading that way a week later so I braved the ridiculous traffic on the highways (and even more so in the parking lot!!) to get it all settled.   Once I got into the store, I was kept waiting 20 minutes or more for a salesperson.  I had to threaten to speak with a manager at one point.  Needless to say, I will be avoiding all Best Buys in the future:  Not the Best experience.

Now, to be fair, not everyone came to Best Buy’s defense:

All of the Best Buy comments remind me of my own experience with a local Best Buy store last Spring.  I was organizing a bone marrow registry drive in our community in honor of three local suburban city employees who were all suffering from the same form of cancer and in need of bone marrow transplants.   As part of the drive, we were conducting a fundraising raffle to help offset the cost of adding people to the registry and to help fund additional drives.  I approached my local Best Buy store(where I have been a faithful electronics customer and Rewards Zone member) for a product donation for our raffle.   I was supplied with the donation request forms, I filled them out and provided all of the requested documentation.   I was told there was a meeting the following week, at which time the store manager and some staff, would review all product donation requests and determine what donations would be made.  I waited until after the meeting and then contacted the store to find out the status of my request.  

I was told the manager was the only who could provide the results of the meeting.  I left a message with my contact information.  Days went by and I didn’t receive a return call.  I called every day for two weeks and was never allowed to talk to the store manager.  I received so many excuses why he couldn’t come to the phone.  On one occasion, when I inquired why I wasn’t receiving a call back from the store manager, I was told “well, he’s the store manager, he’s very busy”.

Finally, I resorted to contacting Best Buy corporate office and submitting my complaint, via their website, about the lack of response from this manager.  Amazingly, I received a call the next day.  Unfortunately for us, they did not choose our fundraising effort to support with a product donation.  And unfortunately, for them, they also lost a regular customer and probably many more who were involved in the fundraising drive. had a long piece the other day about Best Buy’s problems in which the author suggested that the retailer’s issues reminded him of a line from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” One character asks another how he went bankrupt.  “Two ways.  Gradually, then suddenly.”

Great line.

Michael Sansolo had a column yesterday comparing the travails at Kodak to the new Lytro camera, which captures the light field being emitted by the subject in a small-computerized system. That, in turn, enables you to manipulate a picture after you take it. It is technology that could threaten the digital camera biz, which itself rocked Kodak’s world.

One MNB user wrote:

Great piece from Sansolo regarding staying ahead of the technology curve.  He communicated his enthusiasm so well that I clicked on the Lytro link before I finished the article.  Unfortunately it appears that Lytro has a great product but poor communication.  When I went to their website, I saw lots of great magazine quotes about the product, but no actual product information.  When I found the link to the product, the website was so poorly formatted that a lovely flower photo was covering the opening paragraph describing the product, and another page that had text layered over other text, rendering the page unreadable.  Luckily Michael’s article summed up the product nicely.  Too bad the company’s website can’t convey the same information. I know many people who grew rich by taking a great idea that was poorly promoted and maximizing its potential through better communication.  It’s one thing to have a great product, but you also must be able to inform people about it if you want to be successful.

MNB user Jim Swoboda had some thoughts about Kodak’s troubles:

As an avid photographer, I have for decades now utilized the technologies brought to market by companies like Canon and Kodak.   I have been watching Lytro for over a year now and it is a great consumer product and will again change how people take photos.  It is not ready for professional use yet as the image quality is a bit lacking in resolution.  But that is simply a matter of time and further development. 

What I really want to share is the case of Kodak, the failure to adjust and adapt is purely their own and they can not blame anyone else.  

In the mid 70's, a gentleman named Steve J. Sasson, invented the digital camera.  Sure, it was big, about 8 pounds, clunky, think a toaster, and took fairly crude images. Guess who he worked for....yup, Eastman Kodak!

Do you think the guys/gals who ran the film division embraced him and the digital camera?  Based on the state of Kodak today, it would appear the answer if quite obvious.

Do you remember the tag line "These are the moments.  Kodak moments."  It was part of all their media.  It conveyed the simple message, when you had a memory you wanted to preserve, an event that was priceless, it was worth forever preserved in a picture.

What that tag line did not say out loud, but most certainly was believed inside of Kodak, "These are the moments, Kodak moments", as long as they are shot on Kodak film.  They actually believed they were in the film business, not the image business.  For if they were in the image business, why would they care how that image was captured.  Film, digital, or Lytros.  If they had believed that, perhaps they would be the Apple of the image business still today.

Sad lesson in leadership failure.  I personally have always believed the job of management is to think about how to put themselves out of business.  Because if they do not, someone out there is doing just that.  The business landscape is littered with names of companies who never saw it coming, were so married to their successes and believed nothing could upset that balance.

Someone can and someone did, to Kodak.

MNB user J. Schindler wrote:

My grandfather, with a drugstore in a small Ohio town, got a Kodak dealer franchise in the early 1900's.  In the early 30's two of the son's (my dad and his brother) opened a second store in a nearby small Ohio town  - also obtained a Kodak dealer franchise.

When the stores closed in the early 70's (I graduated in pharmacy but then went to law school so the family tradition ended) they still sold a lot of Kodak cameras, film, photofinishing etc.   While some were predicting by the year 2000 we would all be riding around using jet propelled backpacks, I don't know anyone who was predicting the fall of photography as we knew it - first with videotape replacing movie cameras, and then digital replacing still photography film.

Finally, commenting on a story about how Starbucks is raising prices in some markets, I wrote:

I’m already hearing some blowback on this ... with some people saying things like, “Starbucks misjudges the market and they’re going to make me pay more?”

Will this make them buy coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts or Caribou Coffee or Java Joe’s or some other place? Beats me. But I wonder what the ceiling is for Starbucks’ prices.

This prompted MNB user Barb Francella to write:

As a Starbucks regular/gold card holder -- it's the go-to place for PTA moms, community volunteers, at-home workers, college interviewers, etc., to meet here in New Rochelle, NY -- I think service, sense of community will drive business, not a 1-percent increase.

On the other hand, when Starbucks screws up an order or a transaction, it "hurts/disappoints" more than if Dunkin Donuts does. They've set customer expectations high.

Starbuck's sells the experience, not the coffee. Dunkin' Donuts sells the coffee.

I’ll drink to that.
KC's View: