Back in April, we blogged about Best Buy's new "Connected Store" concept with tech support, wireless connections, large customer service hubs, reconfigured checkout lanes and in-store pick-up of items purchased online.
This week, the new test stores opened to the public in Minneapolis and San Antonio, and the media are quick to point out their similarity to Apple stores.
Ann Zimmerman of the Wall Street Journal wrote (July 5) that the "Solution Central" help desk at the heart of the store, which is manned by the company's black-tied Geek Squad, strongly resembles Apple stores' Genius Bar (see photo below).
"Best Buy's prototype has taken another cue from Apple, letting customers pay for products in several locations, rather than forcing them into checkout lines at the front of the store," Zimmerman writes.
"Best Buy said its slimmed-down store, which opened a few weeks ago, is focused less on displaying every conceivable gadget and more on connecting customers with employees who can answer questions or help program equipment."
On June 30, Thomas Lee of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Best Buy's headquarters is located in nearby Richfield, Minn.) wrote that Best Buy has scaled down the size of its big-box stores to emphasize better customer service: "The scaled-down concepts typically range from 30,000 to 45,000 square feet compared with 58,000 square feet for the traditional big box."
The scaling-down process is interesting because -- although I haven't personally visited one of the new stores -- it appears in some of the photos that the company has just partitioned off the outer or rear areas of the store to make the store appear smaller. Presumably they aren't relocating from the large, warehouse format store locations; they're just showing you a smaller chunk of each store.
"In the end, analysts say the Connected Stores will only work if they can attract new customers willing to frequently purchase goods and services in the store versus simply buying products on a competitor's website," Lee writes.
Many experts and even Best Buy itself are focusing on these new stores as a way to combat showrooming, but the key here for Best Buy is to better combat all competitors: the online ones and the physical ones (like the Apple store).