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How Best Buy’s new concierge service is making in-store shopping safer

May 21, 2020, 5:16 PM UTC
A Best Buy employee tends to a customer outside a store in Montebello, California on April 15, 2020 as the electronics nationwide chain store remains closed to customers but open for pickups. - Best Buy said it will furlough about 51,000 employees as coronavirus-related sales surge ends. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN—AFP via Getty Images

Shopping by appointment is no longer just for luxury stores.

Best Buy has adopted the practice at 700 of its 1,000 stores in the past month as part of its efforts to partially reopen locations closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Offering the appointment-only shopping option has helped the country’s largest electronics retailer salvage sales of items that require high-touch service and expertise from its sales staff, such as major appliances and home-office products.

Best Buy stores were open only for curbside pickup starting in late March, a choice made by the company even though it was deemed an essential retailer and stores could have stayed open. The impact is apparent in the company’s first-quarter results: Best Buy’s online sales, which include both curbside pickup and delivery, shot up 155% during this time.

Curbside pickup of online orders and the appointment-only concierge service were two major factors that helped the electronics chain avoid the worst of the sales slump experienced by many other retailers. Best Buy was able to retain about 81% of its sales volume during the last six weeks of the quarter, something one Wall Street analyst qualified as “amazing.” The Department of Commerce said sales at U.S. electronics stores overall fell 61% in April, underlining the importance of Best Buy’s e-commerce prowess.

“We’re seeing demand in complex sales, appliances for cooking at home, and areas like home theater for entertaining,” Best Buy chief executive Corie Barry told reporters on a briefing call about the concierge service.

The by-appointment shopping option was launched in April, with customers able to reserve 30-minute slots that can be extended. The shopper is paired with a Best Buy employee who stays with the customer throughout the visit. Customers schedule appointments by phone, online, or via Best Buy’s app, and Best Buy employees call before the visit to go over safety measures and learn more about what the shopper is interested in purchasing.

While that sounds like it could kill a lot of store traffic, Best Buy is betting that its e-commerce, bolstered with curbside pickup for people who need things in a hurry, will enable it to capture more common transactions, while the concierge service helps with more involved purchases, as a shopper enjoys the undivided attention of a Best Buy employee.

“What we’re seeing from customers is that they actually feel like they have more time to ask more questions, and our associates, more importantly, are offering more fulsome solutions,” Barry told Fortune on the call. “They are focused on one customer’s needs. This leaves lots of room for more complex conversations.”

For its quarter ended May 2, Best Buy’s revenue fell to $8.56 billion from $9.14 billion a year earlier. Comparable sales fell 5.7% in the U.S., its largest market. Stores were open as normal for roughly half the period. Lower sales of products like home-theater equipment and mobile phones offset demand for computing devices and games, the company said. Demand for items like kitchen appliances and home entertainment rose.

While it would be ideal to have all stores open, analysts say curbside pickup, which the company had already been testing and was able to roll out quickly, and now the concierge service should help Best Buy protect as much business as possible.

“As stores are beginning to reopen, initially on an appointment-only basis, we would expect these categories, which are the ‘higher touch’ categories, to rebound and drive incrementally increasing sales going forward,” said Moody’s analyst Charlie O’Shea in a research note.

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