Magazine Article


The Digital Game, According to Best Buy

Best Buy's Bob Gunderson speaks at the PMDA meeting in NYC last month. (photo by Diane Berkenfeld)

The trials and tribulations of entering the digital game was the topic of discussion by Best Buy's Bob Gunderson at the March PMDA meeting in New York City last month. Gunderson is merchandise director of Digital Imaging for Best Buy, one of the country's biggest consumer electronics retailers with over 550 stores in the United States. The company has been in business since 1966.

Whether you're the owner of a single location photo store, own a small chain, have a couple hundred locations throughout the region, or a thousand stores across the country, or are a mass merchant where photo is one of many departments-digital imaging all comes down to people making memories. This was the main theme of Gunderson's talk.

Gunderson began by discussing "becoming a player in the digital game," explaining that with new technologies come more products, more alliances, more complexity, more competition, and, ultimately, more risk. "Our own vendors are our competitors," he said. Even on the mass merchant level, retailers are affected by the drop in sales when manufacturers sell direct to the consumer. This form of competition has been a concern of independent retailers since the practice began.

CE retailer Best Buy, with more than 500 locations across the U.S. offers digital imaging as one of a variety of departments in its stores.

Gunderson explained that at Best Buy they have to decide on 36 digital cameras to stock and sell in each store from over 180 different models. Something they think about, he says, when deciding which products to stock, is, "do they touch the core of what consumers want to do?"

Gunderson explained that digital imaging is all about emotion. "Its not always about megapixels," he said. "Its about memories and sharing pictures." He spoke of what digital imaging and photography mean: "emotion, giving us an ability to create…capturing moments…the things that pull at our hearts…memories."

Applying the technology to your customer's lifestyle is what you need to think about. Fit the appropriate technology to the lifestyle of your customer.

"Look at the customer, and find the technology that adds value to their lives," Gunderson suggested.

"Abandon your thinking that technology is disruptive. Technology just assists us in creating memories."

Remember, he reiterated, "its not about the technology, its about the picture."

When asked whether customers are led towards digital, Gunderson explained that in instances where a customer would be better served by purchasing a 35mm film camera, that's what the sales associates suggest to the customer. "Film won't disappear overnight," he noted. "Film cameras are still the perfect solution for certain consumers"

Always Keep Things "Customer-Centric"

Gunderson also spoke about Best Buy's customer service philosophy. At Best Buy, the customer comes first, he asserted, adding that Best Buy's sales associates are trained to ask questions. What are they [the customer] going to be doing with the camera [or other product] they are looking to purchase?

"We take customer service very seriously," he said. Sales inserts may draw customers into the store for the value, but it's the customer service that keeps them coming back. He explained that the average customer spends 45 minutes in the store per visit.

Best Buy's 90,000 sales associates receive structured training. A range of training tools are utilized by the retailer to keep the sales personnel up-to-date on fast changing technologies including: webinars, DVD training, face to face, weekend warrior, and vendor training sessions.

One of the important lessons that he learned at this past PMA, Gunderson stated, was how important customer service is. He explained that he'd been on a panel with independent retailers, discussing the differences between independents and big box retailers. The level of customer service and the attention to photography is what set the independent photo specialty retailers apart from the larger chains.

Price alone isn't going to make you great. According to Gunderson, its "customer-centricity"-providing and delivering value better than anyone else.