Competing Outside the Box

by John Karlson

Best Buy - Buyer be HappyWhile their competitors advertise holiday clearance bargains, Best Buy is running full-page newspaper ads to inform customers that they “…promise to be there for you and whatever you bought for as long as you need us.” Wow, Best Buy’s got your back (if you’re a customer).

These are not simply platitudes. The campaign goes into tangible detail about an extended no-hassle return and exchange program, help with set-up and even recycling when it’s time for new stuff.

Why all this altruism? It’s easy. The low price purchase factor big box retail relied on as a reason for being and eventual domination is going away. Retail pricing is quickly becoming transparent. Online shoppers regularly use sites like PriceGrabber.com and CNET.com to scour the web for the best deal. More dramatically, it’s not unusual to see shoppers in a Best Buy scanning UPC codes using smart phones equipped with apps like RedLaser or ShopSavvy for instant price transparency at the shelf.

When you use these digital shopping tools, you’ll note that Best Buy rarely wins the low price race against no-frills online outlets like Abe’s of Maine or NewEgg.com. It used to be just the geeks or hyper analyticals who used these tools. I’ve noticed that bar code scanning is a popular smart phone bragging point this holiday cocktail party season.

Best Buy or Best PriceSo if you can’t win on price, you had better change the game. Best Buy is doing just that with its Buyer Be Happy campaign. The tone speaks to a bigger end game than simply changing the rational context of a purchase decision. Best Buy’s language signals a fundamentally different social contract with the consumer. They are not just there to deliver a low price or even a better usage experience. They are promising to act with what I term, “social integrity” – essentially “pledging” to treat their customers, employees, communities and even their supply chain with an eye toward a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. Is all that worth an extra $150 on a flat screen? Time will tell.

When what you buy is pretty much the same from store to store and the pricing is instantly transparent then how you behave as an organization becomes a more important point of differentiation. Maybe the “best buy” is not necessarily the “best price.” Let’s see if Best Buy can turn the super tanker that is our current shopping paradigm.


John KarlsonJohn Karlson is the owner and principal at Karlson Consulting, Inc. A recovering advertising executive/start-up veteran, John helps businesses grow in the post mass-media world.

Leave a Reply