Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tablet - King of the Hill

The Story:

I think we can all agree that Apple is the King of the Hill in market share at somewhere around 75-80% market share (although I am currently finding it difficult to find an official number). Will anyone be able to dethrone them?

This is my Opinion:

Before I even get started on this post, let me say that I love Android due to its ability to support flash, multitude of free apps, handset selection, and for being a 'mostly' open source platform. I was an early adopter in one of the first waves of T-Mobile G1 owners. I also love Google as a company and think that they have a great culture. I think it should also be stated that I am not a fan of Apple, I think that they are bullies.

Okay, now to get to the root of the issue. Apple has positioned itself as the primary brand in tablets the same way it did in MP3 players (which many people still call iPods regardless of the device manufacturer). They did not accomplish this by making sure they had most features, the best specs, or the most affordable price tag. They weren't the first one to do make a tablet, or even the first one to advertise one. They did make a device that is stable with a visually appealing smooth moving operating system and did launch an advertising/marketing blitz that only Apple seems to be willing to do at this point in consumer electronics, I will get to the Apple equation for success a little later though.

Apple has about 75-80% of the tablet market share now (depending on who you listen to). Currently I don't see any single table that will have the much market share coming from any other company, but lets take a look at some of the competition (and why I don't believe they stand a chance).

Motorola Xoom

This tablet is bigger, with a better mega-pixel rating on its front camera (and a rating on its back camera), flash support, a 4g upgrade, and since it is running Android more of the apps are free. The price is close; $799 with no contract (the comparable iPad 2 is $729) but can be subsidized to as low as $599 with a 2 year contract with Verizon. There is also a WiFi only version at $599 (the same price as the equivalent version of the iPad 2). On paper it looks like a much better tablet and it is the one that I would recommend for most people who were trying to decide between the two.

What is Motorola doing wrong - how can they make this more of a contender?

First - Pricing. When you are competing against an Apple product the first thing you want to do is come in at a lower price than anything in their pricing chain. This is a success that I first noticed in the MP3 player era and has repeated itself in the smartphone battle as well. Android is gaining market share vs the iPhone being stagnant and RIM's Blackberry losing. If you want to out sell the iPad with a device that has essentially the same features (with slightly better specs) you have to crush their price. I would assume that if the Xoom were $499 for the 3G version and $299 for the WiFi and subsidized price it would do much better.

Second - Advertising. Everyone and their mom knows what an iPad is and will likely confuse all tablets with the iPad. Motorola isn't doing a good enough job whipping the public into a frenzy about their product and that is sad, because as I mentioned I do recommend this product for most people.

Blackberry Playbook

Another amazing product idea from RIM. Not trying to compete on a larger size with a 7" display it seems like they opted for portability. They also went Dual-Core like the above tablet and the iPad 2 which should make for a fast device. They may have realized that their app world can't compete with that of the iOS or Android and have included the option to run Android apps (this adds an estimated 200,000 apps to their 80,000 app list). This product boosts a really cool feature that allows it to connect to your current Blackberry(BB) - though RIM says that you don't have to have a BB to enjoy this tablet.

Why it doesn't have a shot.

First, RIM lacks relevance. The most amazing thing they did was convince teenagers that they needed a Blackberry, but they didn't adapt or change which has kept their core audience of business users happy, but they lost the rest of the smartphone market. It would be amazing if this device would allow for an iPhone or an Android phone to unlock the same features that a Blackberry phone can. I think that it is an amazing concept and will be even more amazing when someone else does this for those two platforms.

Second, Advertising. Again this is something that is coming soon and they haven't yet whipped their fan base into a frenzy. It will be interesting to see if they do anything big before it comes out, but as it stands I don't believe they are doing enough.

Third, Pricing. Once again the price is too high to compete directly with the iPad 2. I think that this smaller tablet should be coming in closer to the $299 that I stated for the Xoom. I realize that this may be close to the cost to manufacture either device (Xoom or Playbook), but at this point I think that the companies have to make the decision not to profit from the tablet, but to find a way to profit from the media consumption (although this is a dangerous game because Apple is doing both).

Palm Touchpad

Let me start by saying that while I love the idea of this tablet - with features that are similar to everything above (including the Blackberry Playbook, replacing RIM's phones with the Palm phones). I am not going to go into details here. Palm lost the smartphone war - got purchased by HP, and is going to try to reenter. Let me say that the smartphone war reminds me of the processor war from the late nineties where AMD and Intel crushed Cyrix, and I feel that Android and the iOS are the two systems to look at for the future - everyone else will have their good ideas taken by one of these two and will be forgotten about by most people.

The Apple Equation for success

Okay, this is what I have figured out from Apple that other companies should probably mimic (I know that if I were running a company right now I would want to be able to make the profit they make).

Start by building a fan base - They have done this by having decent customer service, passionate people running the company that aren't too different from the customers they want to attract (geeks), and got people to root for them as they were the underdog (facing off against big blue).

Market to this fan base - Every Apple product is announced in a pep rally environment (or so it seems). Every announcement is a secret to be revealed, making this a news story (free press).

Planned shortages - if you think you will sell 1 million of a device make 500,000 units available. Get people to stand in line for a product if you can as well - these are things that also make good news stories (more free press).

Simple advertising everywhere - Make your message very simple. Have a commercial for each feature a product has, don't ever talk about more than one feature within 10 seconds. Run as many commercials as you can afford. Connect these features to how they can benefit someone.

Sacrifice ability for performance - It doesn't matter how many things your new whirly-gig can do, if it doesn't do them fast and without crashing. People HATE it when something doesn't work right and will typically buy the product that does less things as long as it does all of those things well. The iPad doesn't do flash, widgets, or have the same customization as any of the other tablets - but it is stable and moves from one operation to another very smoothly, it wins.

One last off the cuff remark
I don't know if any other company is going to challenge Apple right now, because no one seems to be willing to bring down the price. Maybe a carrier will get smart and start dropping the price of a comparable tablet to $100 or less (free) with a 2 year agreement. That would really move them...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

4G VS 4G VS 3G - What do the G's do?

The Story:

I often hear confusion from people who are looking for a new phone surrounding the differences between 4G and 3G, and between the various versions of 4G. I also hear people who are sure that the iPhone 4 is a 4G phone. I am going to attempt to shed some light on this.

This is my opinion:

To start with 4G is just a marketing term, it really doesn't mean anything because there is no true standard for what 4G means. If you are choosing a new phone it may be important to have fast data and if you are planning on staying with your current carrier and signing a contract - go with the 4G phones as they will be the fastest phones on the carrier (perhaps not immediately, but it is very likely that in your 2 year contract that they will be). If you are changing carriers or thinking about starting service with a carrier the differences in 4G technology can be very important.

So what does the G mean anyway?

G in this case means Generation. The first generation of wireless technology can be called 1G. These were the phones of the 80s and were analog. The reign of 2G phones begin in the 90s and offered improvements like data (text messages) and digital communication (instead of analog). The 2G network is still around and if you have a GSM phone (T-Mobile/AT&T) then you may see an E instead of a 3G from time to time depending on your coverage this is the EDGE network (a 2G network). On a CDMA carrier (Verizon/Sprint) you may notice a 1x on the top in low coverage areas. The EDGE and 1x networks are actually improvements beyond the original 2G network, sometimes being called 2.5G or 2.75G.

3G phones became available in 2001 with greatly improved data rates, but unlike previous generations of the technology there was not truly a standard or bench mark for what speeds a provider had to operate at to call their service 3G. Like the 2G standard before it, there are half-steps before the next generation. One of these half steps is HSPA+, which is a 3G technology that augments the speeds of 3g offering 2-4 times the 3G connection speed currently (with a max connection somewhere around 56Mbps).

So to be clear the "G" really just means generation, and depending on the technology in the phone this is how fast your mobile data will be (how fast webpages load and files download). This has little effect on your voice quality (the 1G phones actually have the best potential for voice quality due to the way analog signals can travel through the air). If you are not looking for data on your phone, this may not matter. Websites are typically able to be loaded quickly regardless of total Mbps down (the speed of your connection) and may be more effected by latency (the time it takes to connect to the server).

4G vs 4G

Okay, so this is where it gets a bit tricky. Sprint has been advertising their 4G network for a long time. Nearly a year ago (the EVO was released in June of 2010). Sprint launched their WIMAX 4G service, which is capable of 128 Mbps (no phone is really achieving this speed currently, and it would be hard press to find one that is averaging more than 15Mbps - which is still faster than most DSL customers). WIMAX is technically an IEEE network standard like the G or N network that is likely in your house. The downside to this is that it makes it difficult to have long range from the towers, and is likely to only have city wide coverage for select cities (even into the future). Sprint heavily marketed their network as "FIRST". As they were the first to 4G coverage.

The reaction from T-Mobile, who had launched their HSPA+ network around the same time as Sprint, was to switch the branding from HSPA+ to 4G. This allowed them to work off of the marketing groundwork that Sprint had already laid. HSPA+ is currently similar in speeds to the Sprint WIMAX, but the upward maximum for the technology is only at about half.

AT&T recently launched their 4G network, which is also HSPA+, and plans to do an LTE network in the future. LTE is the type of 4G network that Verizon has launched. The benefit to this is that it has an upward maximum of 100 Mbps (and with LTE advanced it could be as much as 300Mbps). Verizon's LTE is running on the 700MHz band that analog TV ran on (before the digital conversion). This means that they will be able to put towers across the entire country an blanket us with these amazing speeds (if they follow their past 10 years of coverage expansion). LTE is also an improvement that allows for voice and data at the same time (old iPhone commercials call out AT&T as a better network because of this feature that Verizon lacked).

What do I recommend?

In the end I currently recommend Verizon or Sprint's version of 4G if you are in the market for a phone that will be the fastest in the future. Also, they both currently offer unlimited data which is something that will likely become a must with unlimited terrestrial broadband going to the wayside. With that said, I think that AT&T is a great company and if you live in the right area it can be the perfect provider. Also, with the looming purchase of T-Mobile, AT&T will grow into an even bigger provider and who knows what they will have the potential to offer!

AT&T hunts free tether users.

The Story:

AT&T has started sending text messages and emails to those who are using tethering apps, without paying for the tethering service. (To my knowledge at the time of writing only iPhone users have been affected).

This is my opinion:

I am glad they are doing this.

For far too long have these mobile companies allowed users undermine the services they offer and the sales of their mobile broadband solutions. In the spirit of full disclosure I should make mention that I do work for a company that sells mobile broadband solutions, cell phones, and other devices that use these services. I will not deny that this may cloud my opinion, but so be it.

For those of you who don’t know what mean by mobile broadband solution let me explain, if you already know you can jump to the next paragraph. Many cell phone providers have devices that allow you to connect to the internet nearly anywhere you go by either plugging a device into a USB port on your computer or by simply carrying around a device that creates a wifi network. The service is based off of the same service that allows your mobile phone to connect to the internet nearly everywhere you go. People often ask why not just use the free wifi that you can find more and more places. This is a valid question, but the problem with using open wifi networks is that they expose your computer and your personal data to potential threats.
I know that in my very last blog update I was very negative about AT&T limiting their terrestrial broadband and this seems to be a contradiction to that opinion. I have to argue that this is a different case all together. Mobile broadband is currently a luxury, perhaps in a few years it will be as main stream as broadband is today. Also, I think they have laid out the case pretty well – You are using a service that we charge for, pay for it or stop using it. I don’t see an ulterior motive in this other than the potential that they are trying to remove their grandfathered unlimited plans. If they are trying to remove their unlimited plans, I would assume they could do it the way that Sprint is enforcing their premium data plans (if you change your hardware through upgrade or equipment swap it is applied).
Regarding AT&T removing unlimited data plans on mobile phones, I don’t see this the same way as I do for the removing it from DSL and Uverse. Freedom of choice is the biggest reason - AT&T is offered along side of 2 other post-paid carriers in thousands of locations across the country (Best Buy, Best Buy Mobile stand alone stores, Radio Shack, Target, some Wal-marts, some Staples, and Costco). They also have to compete with pre-paid phones in these locations. I will be worried if the other carriers follow suit, but right now I do see this as a reason that people choose their competitors – if they see enough of this, they may change their policy.

How do I think they are doing it?

I am not 100% sure how they are doing it, but I know how I would go after these users. I would check the ip ranges that data is coming from looking for things that shouldn't be able to be accessed from the phone listed on the account such as: Xbox Live/Playstation network servers, Steam servers, large file transfers (especially those in a format that a phone couldn't open), multiple simultaneous data transfers (from multiple computers access the web at the same time), and for those users that download more than 20GB (not that it is impossible with a phone, but it would merit some account scrutiny).

Am I missing the point?

Don’t feel bad about yelling at me in the comments, or @MichaelASander on Twitter. I will do my best to read and respond to anything that you have to say. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

AT&T Limited internet

The Story:
AT&T recently announced that they would be limiting DSL service to 150 GB and Uverse to 250 GB of usage per month with fees of $10 per 50 GB of overage after exceeding the limit 3 times. The company also says that 98 percent of customers do not exceed this usage.

This is my opinion:
Personally I am upset to hear this for many reasons.

First, it seems like they are recycling the argument/press release they made when they made a similar move against their mobile users. For those who are unaware AT&T removed the unlimited data plans in June of 2010 – the official press release framed it as a new lower price for data. In addition to the press release many AT&T representatives made mention that removing the unlimited data would only affect 2% of the users. It is an odd coincidence that this is the same percentage that uses more than 250GB on their U-Verse and 150GB on DSL. Can this be true, or is this just a way to pacify the general masses?

Second, it seems like a move that is more about protecting traditional paid TV than it does about a fixing legitimate problem. The statement seemed kind of crazy then (considering every other major cell phone provider were still offering unlimited data). AT&T’s argument seems even crazier today considering those companies still have unlimited data (even though Verizon’s CTO keeps teasing the tiered data plans are coming) and even some prepaid phones offer unlimited data (Virgin, Boost, and Cricket). I understand that some customers do use more data, but these limits make it much more difficult for an average family to replace traditional TV with streaming media and the other uses for broadband (gaming, Skype, browsing, etc).

Let’s take a closer look at the way this data breaks up. If we assume that a person has the fastest speed AT&T offers and could maintain that speed around the clock – how long would it take to hit the cap?
24mbps = 180MB per minute
250GB = 250,000MB
250,000MB/180MB = 1388.88(repeating) Minutes
1388.88 minutes/60 minutes in an hour = 23.148(repeating) Hours

You could do it in 1 day if you were able to hit their maximum speed all day!

This doesn’t seem reasonable at all, but to break that down another way –
Netflix movies use about 1GB per hour of streaming, which means that you could spend 250 hours watching Netflix in a month. The average American watches 150+ hours a month in TV – so for an individual user who replaces their TV with streaming media this seems like a reasonable number, 250-150=100GB left to do what you want with. The problem comes in if you have a family of 4 with each able to use a computer of some sort (laptop/desktop/tablet), game counsel, cell phone (to not exceed AT&T’s data cap), or other device (MP3 player/internet station/etc). Hopefully everyone wants to watch the same thing most of the time.

This doesn’t even account for people who are purchasing games from the web (steam/Xbox Live/PSN/etc). New PC games are measured in several GB each, though it is unlikely for someone to exceed the cap with only game purchases – it is still a possibility, and it can take a large portion out of your monthly budget of bandwidth.
I also haven’t talked about those who use services like Carbonite to backup their files. If you have a few hundred GB of pictures/videos (memories) backed up, or coming back down, you are likely going to exceed the cap, what a terrible way to hit the cap.

Third, it seems unfair to those contracted customers. Imagine an all you can eat buffet doing something similar, penalizing a section of customers who are eating 20% more food than anyone else. Skinny people are able to eat more because their stomach can distend, those people should pay more. Or a rule where you can get two plates, but if you go back for a third you will have to pay more. Is the rule fair, especially for those under contract? I don’t think so. If every region could have any broadband carrier, or if these companies weren’t government regulated monopolies, then maybe it would be fair, but this just seems like bad business to me.
Before we accept this argument from AT&T, let’s ask the question does it make since? I have heard arguments that support this side claiming that we all pay for the amount of electricity, water, and gas by total amount of usage and it makes sense when we compare it to these things. I guess my problem with their argument is that I understand that there are huge amounts of resources that go into generating energy, pump water, and acquire gas, but I have a hard time understanding how bandwidth is becoming more expensive. With more fiber optics, cheaper storage, free Wifi “everywhere” and a larger infrastructure one would think that the price of bandwidth would be at an all time low.

What can be done?

Well honestly depending on where you live, not much. You can complain to AT&T, send emails and calls. You can switch from their service to another (provided that there is another provider in your area that isn’t capped.) I guess in the end we can mourn the loss of another great piece of internet freedom, crushed beneath the boot of paid TV (a floundering business that is the thing that should not be).


Hello and welcome to my new blog format. I have been working on the new format this morning. The old posts are all still here the title has changed from "Mike's open letter to Best Buy" to "this is my opinion". I am currently in the process of writing a few new posts, and will strive to publish at least once a week. Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions (I promise to read all of them).

Lets see where this rabbit hole takes us!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

5000 words for improvement

Hello - Goodbye

This will be the last of my Open letter to Best Buy series. I plan on changing the subject matter of my blog to talk about other things that I care deeply about, this does not mean that I care about Best Buy any less, but I feel that by only writing about Best Buy limits the audience that can enjoy my blog, and by opening the subject matter I can write more regularly. No promises, just like when I started this blog, but I want to get on a regular weekly schedule of updates, let’s see what happens. By the way, in case it hasn’t been said enough: Although I am a Best Buy employee, I am a non-exempt worker who is not “on the clock” while writing this thus any opinions, facts, or musings that I post in this forum are mine and have no connection to the company for which I work (and love).
Due to this being the last of the series I figured I would go out with a bang, we’ll see how close I get to the 5000 word marker, so without further adieu…


This is something that I have been talking about to anyone who will listen for a long time, no matter the department or store that I have worked in I have always felt that Best Buy could improve awareness of the awesome things that it does. That is why this is the first category of improvements that I will be talking about. I think we can all agree that the company that does the best job of advertising has to be Apple, so I think it is through that lens that most of the improvements in this category can be viewed.

1. Message – Perhaps I am a bit pessimistic when it comes to what people get out of commercials, but I think that the message should be simple. Whether it is a TV commercial, Radio, internet spot, skywriting, etc. I think that we have come to an age where advertisements are trying to be entertaining or viral (perhaps we have always been in the age where ads are supposed to be entertaining). What if they were just simple – perhaps one my favorite pieces that we never aired anywhere other than in store was the Geek Squad Black Tie spot where a lady spills her “big gulp” style drink on her camera – the agent uses “the force” or a power similar to it, to put the drink back in the cup and save her camera. This is a simple and effective message that would help people realize one of the greatest kept secrets at Best Buy (GSBTP).

2. Increase the Budget – I understand that there is a finite amount of money in the budget for advertising and at the same time the audience is becoming more fragmented. With this in mind there is a seemingly endless stream of Apple commercials on the TV (showing off their very simple message). They are a smaller company than we are, but yet have the budget for this. (I would assume that it is because they are creating instead of just selling – this list of improvements isn’t just an ala carte menu it is more of a manifest of changes that complement each other, I will get to improvements that help Best Buy be more profitable as this document goes on).

3. A matter of focus – A lot of the problem comes down to the fact that Best Buy is doing a million things (I talk about this more in my Encyclopedia Best Buy article). It becomes difficult to assign who is going to get the focus (advertising budget) and who is not (who will be the Geek Squad and who will be the Magnolia). I have two schools of thought on this first is that the most profitable portions of our business should be the ones we advertise most (I guess it is business 101 if you have two products that both sell for $100 and you make 10% margin on one and 70% margin on the other – which would you rather sell?) The other is which is going to benefit the most from advertising – this one is more difficult because it comes down to many other factors. Let’s talk major appliances for a minute – this is a category where you can advertise for a few weeks at a time and not see any movement vs a TV or a computer – why is this? Part of the reason is how you do it, you have to get the message to where people can see it, part of the reason is that if the customer thinks that you are new at major appliances (not realizing that you have been selling them 30+ years) they may go to an old standby (Sears/Lowes), and the last part is that appliances aren’t an impulse buy (you can always have an extra TV, it isn’t as practical to have a second oven.) My personal choice would be to implement a heavy rotation of commercials that talk about the Value Propositions that we have created for our customers that no one else can match when we look at the entire package. This includes GSBTP, Geek Squad Services, Buy Back, Accessories, Knowledgeable Experts, Trade-in program, Pitch-in Card, our Exclusive Brands, Best Buy Mobile, and Reward Zone. Obviously these can’t all fit into one 30 second commercial you couldn’t even explain them as such, but if we had a series of commercials that explained each of these (and if the commercials could tie together so that customers would want to find all of the pieces) I think we would see a serious increase in traffic (and not just generic traffic numbers of extra people walking in, customers who are excited to be at Best Buy).

4. Product placement – With the diminishing number of people watching cable television commercials (due to DVRs, torrents, and streaming video) it would be wise to have shows base some of the plot around visiting a Best Buy. We can showcase many of the things that make us a world class company, such as having interactions with associates, fixing problems with products, installing TVs, etc.

5. App advertisement – As most people know a large percentage of the apps on the Android market are free and many of the companies that make apps accomplish this by using advertising revenue from banner ads and splash screens in the app. This could be a great area for Best Buy to start advertising, especially for Best Buy Mobile considering that the device that you are viewing it on is probably sold at BBYM (with the exception of US Cellular).

6. Delivery Trucks – Brand our delivery trucks with a large Best Buy Logo. This way everyone in the neighborhood knows where you just got that amazing TV, major appliance, or whatever else you are getting delivered.

7. Exclusive Brands – Advertise our exclusive brands. I know that part of the savings that customers receive on our brands is that we don’t pay for advertising, but I think that if we took our premium private labels like Insignia and Rocketfish, we could drive more awareness of these amazing products and have more people coming in specifically for our brands.

8. Portable Best Buy – One of the ways that we could have a greater impact with community events (like county fairs and major sport teams’ training) is to create a portable Best Buy store from a tractor trailer similar to the madden challenge or The Game Truck. There would be a few different styles of the truck to support different departments/inventory selections – with inventory either coming from a store, district, or territory level (depending on the event) and the revenues hitting the P&L of the source of the inventory/labor. The entire point of these would be to provide solutions for customers that may have forgotten to bring a piece of technology to the event, or found their equipment lacking once they were at the event. A great example of this would be at a training camp, learning that your kit lens on a DSLR isn’t enough to get the type of zoom that you wanted – we would have the better lenses at the camp, so no need to leave, 5 minutes later you are taking the type of pictures you thought you would be able to.

Reward Zone

This is one of my favorite things that Best Buy does. It is amazing to me how many people don’t know that we offer this program, and even more amazing that Panera Bread does a better job of utilizing the available technology than we do. With that said let’s make it better.
9. Automated – One of the coolest things that Panera has done to our Reward Zone program is to make it part of their register system. When I go in, they tell me what rewards I have unlocked and ask me if I want to apply them today. It would be amazing if you could do the same thing for a customer without having to print it out in store or at home – this saves ink/paper and time. This would make the entire process so much easier for what feels like the majority of our customers.

10. Tiered RZ – Reward Zone Silver is a really cool club, but I think there should be multiple levels to the program, perhaps a gold and platinum club as well – with the coolest rewards going to those on top. I would recommend having a place in the store that shows off some of the cool rewards that you can earn when you climb the ladder – driving some more customer loyalty. I would also not just use total amount of dollars spend, but perhaps add a certain number of transactions, or a stipulation where a purchase needs to be made once every three months, to prevent people from just making one giant purchase and jumping high into the ranks of loyal customers.

11. More after hours shopping events – “Look, it’s a party at Best Buy”. Having our store open after hours does two things. It helps our most loyal customers feel even more appreciated and it creates advertisement for our stores. We can take the time during these events to educate our customers on more of the awesome things we do as a company, or even the amazing things they can do with the technology we sell. Imagine not only doing the events, but before allowing the customers to shop freely we had a demonstration (or series of demonstrations) that they had to watch first (like going to a vendor road show, where you have to visit booths and watch demonstrations before you can enter drawings).

12. New Product preference – Special inventory allocation for our Silver level customers. On select new products (depending on the vendor) we should allow these customers to purchase products before the street date or perhaps just an hour before the store opens for the rest of the customers. When inventory is constricted because of high demand, they would be on a call back list ahead of any other customers. This would give more benefit to being a loyal customer. It is also more likely that these customers already understand all of the amazing things they can only get at Best Buy (GSBTP, Buy Back, Financing, etc).

Best Buy Dotcom

This website has been a growing and changing and evolving thing for a long time. We have made many improvements since I started with the company, but there are more that can be made.
13. Buy Amazon.com – They are arguably the best dotcom retailer in the business, we could just buy them and let them continue to do business as usual (while learning lessons that we can apply to our own website).

14. User’s Manuals – If we had a direct link to the manufacturers’ websites for products manuals our website would be a much more effective research tool for products (even after we have sold the product).

15. Twelpforce integration – What if there was an “Ask Twelpforce” button on each product where customers could send a question to Twelpforce and get some assistance with questions they had about the product?

16. Facebook integration – what if there was a like button for each product on BestBuy.com like on the levi.com website.

17. IdeaX integration – There should be more mention of BestBuyIdeax.com on our BestBuy.com website, perhaps a banner or other ad that explains that we are gathering feedback through this website.

18. Product Videos/content – Products should have links to videos that show off their benefits (how people are actually using the product), links to reviews from partners like Cnet, and to the content that they can create (for products with cameras and microphones embedded in them).


The world is changing at an incredible pace, and our services do a great job of mirroring those changes – here are a few that I would suggest.

19. PC Building – What if Best Buy carried all of the pieces to build a computer in the store (we have them on the website so it isn’t really that much of a stretch), but in addition to having the pieces we offered a service where we could build the computer for the customer (we could then start selling OEM versions of the OS that could be sold with the motherboard).

20. Photoshop – What if we could take customer pictures and alter them. There are many Best Buy employees that already have the requisite skills to do many of the basic edits that customers would want – we could even optimize the process by having developing proprietary actions that can be applied to photos.

21. Slideshows/videos – Similar to the above idea, if we could create slide shows and videos for customers and burn them to a DVD (or just save them to a flash drive in a movie format). We could be heroes for the customers that want to show off their vacations, or other life events.

22. MMO Leveling – A leveling service for players of MMORPGS (World of Warcraft), where our Agents (or Blue Shirt game enthusiasts)would level characters for customers with a standard charge for total number of levels (this would be contingent on the store having someone with the requisite knowledge to do this). With the sheer number of gamers that we have on our staff, this would not be hard to implement – we can use best practices and higher level characters to make this even more efficient over time.

Alternative Business

Here are a few ideas that can bring in different revenue streams.

23. Green energy – What if we sold alternative energy systems and the services to go with them. Solar panels and wind generators. We could jump in ahead of the rest of the country and make a name for ourselves – and make it easy for people to become early adopters.

24. Gaming network – I have thrown this idea out there before, and I still think that it is a valid idea to bring in a new revenue stream (this idea could just as easily be in the traffic driver category). The idea is simple; we create a LAN in store and allow people to play games against each other for a fee. I have done this very thing at a Best Buy store without charging the fee to set up a Call of Duty tournament for the midnight release that we did there – it took us 30 minutes to setup 12 TVs on three different networks. The excitement that those players had to be able to do it was amazing and most said they would have paid to do this more often.

25. App development – This is also another idea that I posted a year ago on IdeaX. It is also a pretty simple idea, with huge benefits. If Best Buy were involved in App development (especially for the rapidly growing Android os) we could not only draw revenue from the apps, but position ourselves for the sweeping changes that are coming in technology (brining us to be similar to Apple as a creator of content as opposed to just being a retail store).

26. Venture capital – Invest in startup companies with a hope to fund the next big thing. And advertise that Best Buy is doing this. Perhaps even a social component where our customers could vote on what we should fund next (similar to what we do with @15 community).

Employee improvement

Before I start talking about this I think that at Best Buy we have some of the greatest employees of any “retail” company (it is still my firm belief that we should not classify ourselves as retail, but we should be known as something else, but that doesn’t change the fact that people look at us like a retail company).

27. More training – It seems like we do a huge amount of training in our stores, and we do, but I would liken this suggestion to a professional athlete. Athletes train all the time, because if you don’t work out you lose muscle tissue, and you can always improve on one skill or another. I would say that an employee should spend 10-25% of their time at work training (depending on the day). By this logic I understand that it means that an entire day out of the week could be spend training, but the benefit can far exceed the cost of giving up ground in the field of knowledge to competitors like HH Gregg.

28. Best Buy Reps – Many of our vendors have reps that come into the stores and educate our employees around products and reasons why a customer should pick their brand, what if we had a group of Best Buy reps that travelled around and did the same thing, validating employee training, spreading best buy news (I know we have programs for news, but not everyone reads, or remembers what they have read). This team would travel from store to store to ensure that everyone is on par – not just what a leadership team in one particular store believes, but to our high standards as a company.

29. On call – To better manage labor, what if we scheduled employees as on call, that way if we have a huge rush come in we can better adjust our labor and call in these employees – we could pay a premium for their labor during these hours, and still come out ahead of those times when we over staff and have to cut labor (only to get slammed by customers directly after the cut).

30. Remote Store employees – What if we used technologies like Skype to spread the labor around the country. Imagine if we had a terminal that a customer could access that was loaded with a video chat software – when all of the other employees in the store were busy, they could use this terminal to talk to an employee from another store where they may not be as over run. They could ask their questions (face to face with a live person), and get answers directly. Perhaps the customer wouldn’t even need to be in the store and could just an OMS transaction for a store pickup at their convenience.

31. Re-org – This isn’t the place to talk in depth about the past re-org or the structure that I would recommend – I would love to write about it in detail and I will if anyone from Best Buy wants to have a conversation about this we can do it on a more private basis.

32. Higher employee wages – Better employees come at a higher cost. I think that if we could increase the average wage of our line level employees we could have better employees (and retain them longer). Perhaps it isn’t just the wage per hour, but the amount of hours that we can give them. Again I can’t go into as much detail on this one in public as I can in private so I apologize for the brief, but to talk about this subject in depth I feel that it would again have to be an internal conversation.


Our accessory selection was great for our older business model, but as consumer electronics have changed, the accessories have stayed the same.

33. Cheap ones – Although we know better, and try to advise people to stay away from them, there are some people out there that think that their cheap cables are going to be as good as the premium ones. The problem that I see is that we don’t really carry an off brand – we have premium brands and private labels, but not super cheap accessories. Many customers will go to Wal-mart or Amazon to pick up a cable that is a few dollars less. Some stores price match (against the policy) with unlike brands – If we carried the extremely cheap accessories we could still capture those customers and present a cheap, good, better, best strategy.

34. More – One of the things that is disheartening is that we have a very limited amount of accessories depending on the department that you go into (especially Best Buy Mobile). Again I understand the finite amount of space and dollars that can be spend on maintaining an inventory, but there has to be a better way. Perhaps for phone cases (and this can be applied to other accessory categories). If we had several styles on display, but had the inventory in the warehouse (or backroom for SAS). Where we could maximize the total amount of styles of cases we could show, but just had to retrieve the correct one for the customer from “the back”.

35. Demo – We have lots of product displayed through the stores, but how many displays do we have that show off the abilities and versatility that accessories add to the main functions of products? Being able to have a demo of how an accessory performs helps drive sales (showing the difference between an HDMI and Composite cables for instance shows a much better picture quality).
Competition crushing
With more and more companies getting into consumer electronics (and mobile phones as well). It is possible that our message can get confused or missed with all of the other out there treading on our toes. Let’s crush them.
36. Ad Blitz - When a new store from any of our competitors opens we should saturate every type of media that we can make it known why customers should only shop with us. If we can tailor these towards strengths we have vs their opportunities (in the case of HH Gregg emphasize that we do not have commission, because it wasn’t right for the customers in the 90s, and it isn’t right now…)

37. Better service – Customer service is one of the things that we want to be best at, and if we follow our company policies, training, and standard operating platform we can do this – it is in those stores that have slid away from these basics of foundational excellence and they may need to be brought back into the fold. To do this we should increase the amount of “secret shops” that we do, but instead of using a third party to do this, it should be Best Buy employees from outside of the market that conduct these visits (preferably a mix of engaged employees –ranging throughout the company structure a good example would be council members). My feeling is that these employees are likely to have the best grasp on what is going on and what is missing in a store.

38. Steal the thunder – On the day of the Grand Opening for other stores, we should have large events with amazing giveaways and sales that are significantly better than what the competitor can/will offer. This runs the potential of reducing the amount of initial traffic that that store will draw, along with keeping them from leeching customers from us.

Traffic drivers

One of the issues the things that drives me absolutely crazy is when I am working in a store and there are no customers around (or just a handful of customers). Traffic is our life blood, those customers in our store represent our survival as a company, which is pretty obvious. There is another phenomena that I notice when the store is slow, the employee energy levels go down, meaning the next round of customers may not get the level of service that they should.

39. Road Show – One of my favorite things in the world are trade shows, I wish I could go to them more often. There are always new things to see, people talking very passionately about the product, brand, or whatever they are standing in front of. The possibilities of what these new things can do are always mind boggling. The idea is to transform some portion of the big box stores into a “road show” area, where every month there is a new thing that we are showing off to our customers. This could literally be anything, and the best part is that we could probably have a vendor pay for the labor and the materials to build it each month.

40. Traveling Best Buy show – Obviously we are making a bigger presence in malls across America with our Best Buy Mobile Stand Alone Stores. What if we had a traveling Best Buy event where we could show off many of the products that people would see in a big box Best Buy, along with Geek Squad to answer tech questions, and Best Buy Mobile employees to do things like phone cleanings, and invis-shield installations? These could be something we set up for a week (or weekend) in malls where we have Best Buy Mobile stores, or even the malls where we are trying to figure out if we want to put a Best Buy Mobile (or big box Best Buy in the area outside of the mall). This would be an amazing way to get the word out about a Grand Opening, but also a way to draw more attention to our brand and get people excited about shopping at our stores.

41. Location based Contests – Have a drawing for a free product – it could be anything from a $20-$15,000 prize for a random customer in the store at 1pm on Tuesday, as a for instance. We could do this for any store, or all the stores at the same time. Basing the time to be at the store on a time when traffic is typically light. This will drive sheer numbers of customers into our stores; depending on how well we advertise it – and how often we run the promo. If we do it every Tuesday at 1pm at a store for a year, customers will come to expect it and numbers will increase over time – but we must make sure that we are capitalizing on the customers that come into the store during this promotion – thus a $20 price is probably better, also if we give away a gift card instead of a product then the customer is likely to return to the store at a later time to redeem it.

42. Car Shows – To promote our installation bays and the amazing work of our Autotechs we should host car shows where people can bring in their cars and show off the work they have done themselves or had us do (either during the summer, or year round climate/weather permitting). We could invite vendors to show off their new products, and this could give us more credibility in the community along with requests for more services that we can offer in this area.

GSBTP improvements

43. Instant – What if GSBTP had an instant plan? This would be similar to the way that Blackberry phones are currently traded in, where customer could pay a premium. They could choose to pay it up front, (or an additional fee per month on phone plans), or pay extra (like a deductible) when they bring it in.

44. Chargers and Batteries instore – It would be great if a customer could get a replacement charger or battery in the store instead of having to call 1800GeekSquad or 1888BestBuy as these lines can take 15-20 minutes just to talk to someone (which can be aggravating for the customer).

45. Find my phone app – Sprint’s TEP plan comes with an application that allows for customers to find their lost/stolen phones. There are android apps that already to this on the market, but if we could have one branded with GSBTP and download it for customers that purchase this plan, they would see a lot of value in it, and we would gain more respect from our customers.

Credit Cards

One of the coolest things we can do for a customer is to give them “Free” money to shop at Best Buy, obviously they have to pay it back, by “Free” I am just talking about the fact that you can use a Best Buy credit card for an extended amount of time without paying for the use of the money (No Interest).

46. Secured – What if a customer with unfavorable credit could get a “secured” Best Buy credit card in store, where they could create their balance by paying up front. This would be great for customers who are looking to build credit, but even better for those who want to pay for a deposit on a cell carrier, especially for those where we can’t take cash.

47. Gift cards – One of the more common things people are starting to ask for is to be able to use their gift cards to make payments on their Best Buy cards. If we get out in front of this movement and become on the first retailers to do this, we could create a great deal of customer loyalty.

48. New Promotions – If we gave away free accessories, delivery, or installations with use of one of the cards, we could influence more new applications for the card, along with promoting the use of the card and building more value for customers who have it already.

Well it looks like I have exceeded the 5000 word mark, so I am going to end at this point – in my original notes I was going to go from department to department to make suggestions and while I was at it I would probably come up with a few more categories, but I think that if I don’t stop here this could quickly become the length of a novel. I hope that you have enjoyed the Open letter to Best Buy series – I will attempt to be more brief in my next series of blog, with a goal of least one article a week. Thank you for reading.