The Showroom Showdown: Best Buy vs. Amazon
Once upon a time, Best Buy was a magnet for shoppers. We came, we saw, and we unflinchingly bought. Fast forward to 2012, and Best Buy is seemingly no longer a “best bet” among consumers. The big box made news recently, not because of stellar sales performance, but because of its store closings, layoffs, and failure to evolve with changing consumer needs. Best Buy’s growing reputation as Amazon.com’s showroom isn’t doing much to help the matter, either.
For this post, you’ve got ringside seats to the bout pitting the big box veteran against the online “underdog.” We’ll go three rounds with BIG insights to see who might have more long-term stamina.
Round One: Customer Share
It’s interesting to note that – despite its troubles – Best Buy still remains a top-of-mind reference among electronics shoppers. About a third of the 8,000+ consumers we talk to each month indicate they shop most often at Best Buy for electronics (an unaided, write-in response), leading Walmart (with about 20%) as well as Amazon.com (just under 10%). Further, our 10+ years of insights show us that Best Buy’s lead as the store shopped most often hasn’t been challenged – ever.
Amazon didn’t start gaining traction in this category until late 2009 (the same year which marked Circuit City’s demise) and has been steadily been increasing ever since. However, with Best Buy’s current customer share quadruple that of Amazon, the online giant will have to vastly pick up its growth pace to catch up with Best Buy within the foreseeable future.
Winner: Best Buy. There’s still equity in the Best Buy nameplate – and that’s a high percentage of customers who still consider the big box their prime destination for electronics.
Round Two: Cross-Shopping
Let’s discuss the meaning of the “shop most often” phrase we use to gauge customer share; the term “shop” can mean “browse” and/or “buy.” So while it appears that Best Buy may be the store shoppers head to or think of first for electronics, the retailer’s recent performance suggests that it isn’t the only option (i.e. they are, in fact, shopping around). And in the realm of high-dollar electronics, who can blame them in this economy?
We collected some interesting cross-shopping insights in July that highlight Best Buy’s current predicament:
- Among Best Buy’s most loyal electronics shoppers, 51.6% admit to surfing Amazon (for any category) within the past 90 days. Fewer (40.6%) perused the offerings at Best Buy during this same time period. Ouch.
- On the flip side, among Amazon’s most loyal electronics shoppers, a whopping 92.4% had visited the site within the past three months, while just 16.8% had been curious enough to enter a Best Buy. Double ouch.
Is there any loyalty towards retailers in an uncertain economy? As evidenced by our cross-shopping data, Best Buy customers were more likely to head to Amazon than they were to the big box itself in the past 90 days. Granted, they could have been surfing Amazon for books, toothbrushes, or even apparel, but how hard would it have been to check out the electronics offerings? Just a few mouse clicks.
Winner: Amazon. While the online retailer’s customer share for electronics is relatively minor, Amazon’s vast product offerings are a major plus with shoppers.
Round Three: Price Comparisons and Showrooming
One of the biggest retail buzzwords today is “showrooming”: the art of demoing merchandise in a physical store and using mobile devices to locate the retailer with the best price. It’s the most modern way to compare prices [for now].
When Best Buy began reporting problems, pundits began pointing the finger at showrooming (and that handy little Price Check by Amazon app). But are Best Buy’s customers guilty of using the big box’s sales floor for this purpose?
Also in July, we found that among Best Buy electronics shoppers carrying mobile devices, 67.1% regularly or occasionally comparison shop via their mobile devices – and about two in five (38.3%) use Amazon’s Price Check app specifically (regularly or occasionally). However, these figures aren’t out of line with what we recorded for Amazon’s mobile-wielding electronics shoppers: 70.4% regularly or occasionally compare prices using their smartphones or tablets and a higher percentage (45.4%) utilize the Price Check app. Further, these percentages are nearly identical to mobile owners in general (67.2% compare prices with their devices; 40.3% report using the Price Check by Amazon app).
While showrooming may be contributing to the big box’s woes, it’s evident that this isn’t a “problem” unique to Best Buy in particular. Showrooming just “is” – it’s another smart shopping strategy being adopted by today’s well-informed consumers and an inevitable trend born from the mobile movement.
Winner: Amazon. The online retail threw a hard punch at more retailers than just Best Buy when it introduced the Price Check app. And the intel it receives from Price Check participants ensures that Amazon’s sticker prices remain low – making non-price competition a “must” for other retailers.
Best Buy seems to be missing the benefit of its so-called showroom status: the retailer has the initial opportunity to make a direct connection with customers and close the sale before shoppers begin scanning SKUs. Instead of placing blame on Amazon and the showrooming trend, perhaps these are the real questions we should be asking: Why has Best Buy failed to capitalize on the customers entering their stores? And, why haven’t shoppers felt compelled to buy from Best Buy once inside the store? Where is Best Buy’s value proposition to its customers?
With pricing transparency between retailers only likely to increase as we become a more technologically-savvy society, Best Buy’s near knockout should serve as a warning. Retailers will have to look to their customers – creating value that will fulfill customers’ needs, fit their budgets, and leave them feeling good about their purchases – and wanting to return for more.