Best Buy is lending out its geeks to harried travelers coming through Chicago's O'Hare Airport this week as the holiday traveling -- and shopping -- season kick into higher gear.
The Geek Squad has set up a first-of-its-kind "airport precinct" in the airport's "H" concourse from which a handful of agents are doling out free advice and tech help to travelers who may be having problems with their smartphones or tablets. The booth also has charging stations and workstations where travelers can surf the web, play games, or, of course, shop for last-minute gifts.
Clad in their trademark white shifts and black ties, the Geek Squad agents will also roam the terminal with backpack charging stations and will bring their advice directly to passengers while they are waiting at their gates.
"There is nothing more frustrating than technology troubles while you are traveling," Chris Askew, president of Geek Squad Services, said in a statement. "That's why we decided to give the gift of Geek Squad to travelers this holiday, and offer free service and advice, along with a well-deserved break."
The booth opened today and will be up and running from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through December 23.
In addition to building goodwill with travelers, the initiative also is a way for the Richfield-based retailer to spread the word about the Geek Squad, a network of more than 20,000 agents that help with repairs and installation of electronics and appliances. The service is one of the ways Best Buy has been trying to differentiate itself from its online competitors.
One of the nation's busiest airports, more than six million travelers are expected to go through O'Hare in the month of December alone.
Best Buy found itself hustling Thursday afternoon to retract a tweet some found insensitive related to a closely-watched murder case.
We deeply apologize for our tweet about #Serial. It lacked good judgment and doesn’t reflect the values of our company. We are sorry.— Best Buy News (@BBYNews) December 11, 2014
So, first, let's back up. A Best Buy store in Maryland plays a somewhat prominent role in a murder case that is the subject of a hit podcast series called Serial. The podcast, which has aired 11 episodes thus far, delves into the ins and outs of the murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999 and raises questions about whether the state convicted the right person.
The murder allegedly took place in a Best Buy parking lot. And the accused, Adnan Syed, who insists he is innocent, supposedly called his friend after the murder from a pay phone at the store. One possible hole in the case revolves around this pay phone and whether it ever existed. The intrigue around this question and the case in general has led some avid listeners of the podcast to visit this Best Buy store to look for clues as to whether there may have been a pay phone at that location.
So then came the controversial tweet from Best Buy this afternoon.
The reaction on Twitter was swift, but mixed.
And that’s the story of how Best Buy learned not to use public fascination with a tragic murder as a marketing plot.— Daniel Fienberg (@HitFixDaniel) December 11, 2014
Best Buy deleted the tweet and put out a statement saying that it was "clearly in poor taste."
But some thought the tweet was kind of funny and the response too harsh.
Is Best Buy thinking about leveraging the Geek Squad – and its fleet of vans and Volkswagen beetles – to roll out a same-day delivery service?
Moody’s Investors Service thinks it could be. In a report out this week, its analysts said they think Best Buy could roll out a proprietary same-day delivery service “in a major fashion” in the next 12 to 18 months by utilizing the Geek Squad.
“It seems to us, the next battleground for online sales is going to be who can do same-day delivery,” said Moody’s analyst Charlie O’Shea in an interview.
Many retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart and Macy’s have already begun testing same-day delivery, mostly using third party delivery services. Amazon is probably the furthest along in this realm, having already rolled it this service to more than a dozen cities.
But O’Shea said those retailers that can control the so-called last mile – the final leg on a package's journey to a customer’s doorstep – will have a distinct advantage over others. Amazon is already reportedly testing its own fleet of delivery vans and trucks.
“Unless you have to, you don’t want to outsource it,” O’Shea added.
For its part, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told the Star Tribune earlier this year that the company is doing some “modest and humble” testing of same-day delivery. But the company has not elaborated on those tests.
A Best Buy spokesman also didn’t have any comment about the Moody’s report suggesting the retailer might tap into the Geek Squad.
The Geek Squad, of course, is the corp of 20,000 Best Buy agents often clad in black ties and white shirts who provide tech help to customers in the stores or through home visits.
Target Corp. has certainly come a long way with its e-commerce efforts. Two years ago, the company’s website couldn’t even properly process orders following the roll out of its Missoni collection.
Fast forward to 2013. As of the first week of November, all 1,800 of Target’s stores in the United State offer consumers the ability pick up merchandise in the store that they had ordered online.
Buy Online, Pick Up in Store is not exactly new: Best Buy and Macy’s have long offered the service. But given its ambitious timetable—CEO Gregg Steinhafel told analysts during the summer the retailer planned to complete the roll out by Black Friday—Target not only finished the job but finished it a good three weeks early.
Amy Koo, a retail analyst at Kantar Retail, expressed skepticism that Target could complete the project in such tight timeframe. But the company seems to have adopted a more cautious approach to the rollout, she said.
Unlike the launch of the redesigned Target.com in 2011, the retailer has not heavily publicized the debut of Buy Online, Pick Up in Store. Back then, critics argued that Target did not adequately test its website to see if it could handle all of the heavy traffic the Missoni collection was bound to attract.
This time though, Target opted for a “soft launch” to first the test the service on employees and some customers.
“Target did not make a big splash, which makes it easier for them to first get the hang of it ,” Koo said. “It’s a real good thing to ease into it rather than make a big blowout statement.”
Even now, the service remains rather low key. Koo said a store she recently visited was only filling 10 to 15 orders a day.
Target is apparently still working out the bugs. A good friend in San Francisco recently complained to this blogger that the item she ordered on the website was not set aside for her when she visited the store.
“Target made up for it though by helping me find the items and helping me wheel them to my car,” she said.
The National Retail Federation had some interesting numbers from Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend.
Low prices helped keep Americans’ budgets in check this weekend: on average, shoppers spent $407.02 from Thursday through Sunday, down from $423.55 last year.
That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another interpretation: consumers on average spent less than they did than the same period a year ago.
More than 141 million unique shoppers have already or will have shopped by the end of the big Thanksgiving weekend, up from 139 million.
More shoppers are always a good thing. But when you factor in how much money they spent, you get this: the number of shoppers over the weekend grew just 1.4 percent while average spending fell 4 percent.
Yikes. A 1.4 percent gain in shoppers hardly equals out a 4 percent decline in spending. Retailers are essentially brawling over a barely growing pool of Black Friday shoppers who are actually spending less on average than did a year ago.
In addition, there is one less shopping week this year because Thanksgiving fell on the last week of November. Suddenly, a season with an already low margin of (profit) error just got a little more perilous.
In warmer parts of the country, bargain hunters have been lined up in front best Buy stores for nearly a week trying to save $500 to $1,000 or more on big screen TVs and other electronics. But Minnesotans seem to be less patient and more weather weary. We wait until the Sunday before Thanksgiving before hauling out the tent, portable heater, rations and camping chairs.
That's according to Joe Geary of Minneapolis (pictured), who is first in line at the Best Buy in Richfield. It's his 16th year in front of Best Buy for Black Friday deals. He keeps 10 percent of what he hauls in that day and gives the rest away to people in need, he said. An employee at the Bureau of Indian Education, he's on vacation this week, as he waits and waits and waits for TVs and computers discounted hundreds of dollars.
At 3 p.m. Monday, three tents had been set up at the Best Buy in Richfield. Only two were occupied, one by Geary and another by an unemployed man who asked not to be identified due to a pending "settlement" of an undisclosed nature. Both spoke of the camaraderie that develops among the campers. Geary brings coffee and doughnuts for his new friends.
Best Buy shopper Tom Seibora of West St. Paul thinks the camping out is "ridiculous." "I did it once and would never do it again. It's not worth the aggravation," he said.
So what is it worth? Let's say a person spends about 100 hours (4 days) waiting for Best Buy's doors to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. And let's assume that they save $1,500 on their purchases. In that case, the bargain bunter is getting paid the equivalent of about $15 per hour.
Another upside? They're not stuck making Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the campers have family or friends who bring it to them, said Geary.