NILES, IL - JUNE 06: "Geek Squad" double agent Moira Hardek leaves for a service call from a Best Buy store June 6, 2006 in Niles, Illinois. Best Buy is buying GreatCall to expand beyond its Geek Squad and offer health-related services to seniors.
Tim Boyle Getty Images
By Kevin Kelleher
August 15, 2018

Amazon isn’t the only retailing brand to expand into healthcare services. Best Buy announced Wednesday it will pay $800 million to acquire GreatCall, a company that offers health and medical-alert services to 900,000 older Americans.

GreatCall offers seniors several products—including portable medical-alert devices and easy-to-use mobile phones—that provide access to urgent-response teams, doctors and nurses, and reminders to take medications.

The acquisition may not seem like a natural fit for a retailer of TVs and computer gear. Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly explained by saying, “Technology can improve the quality of life of the aging population,” and that Best Buy is positioned to help given “our experience with technology and serving customers in their home.”

In other words, many of the customers who seek help from Best Buy’s Geek Squad are also seniors who have difficulty setting up and maintaining home computers and Internet-connected appliances. GreatCall not only gives Best Buy more services to sell them, it offers the Geek Squad a broader customer base to reach out to.

GreatCall is similar to Assured Living, a service that Best Buy launched last fall and which uses sensors and notifications to improve communications between caregivers and seniors about their daily activities, such as movement and sleep patterns.

In a retail market increasingly dominated by Amazon, Joly has worked to turn Best Buy around. While its Geek Squad laid off or relocated 399 Geek Squad staffers last summer, Best Buy’s stock has risen 170% in the past four years, compared with a 44% gain for the S&P 500 Index.

Amazon has also given signs it’s preparing its own move into health services, from health-related Alexa skills to offering medical supplies to hospitals, to tackling rising health-care and prescription costs. Best Buy’s purchase of GreatCall may be a pre-emptive move against Amazon in the health-care space.

Best Buy’s stock was up 0.8% at $76.98 a share in after-hours trading Wednesday.

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