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Is Best Buy The Next Circuit City? February 5, 2021

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.

For those of you who weren’t born in the 90s (or haven’t read my You Will NOT Be Missed article on the subject) Circuit City was an electronics megastore that sold Televisions, Stereos, Video Games, PCs, CDs, and DVDs. It died in the mid-2000s, and as far as I know, all its stores are shuttered. Most pundits and mainstream “journalists” blamed the company’s failure on the online marketplace, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people to this day believe Circuit City to be Amazon’s first corporate kill. Anyone who believes that is wrong.

Circuit City did not fail because people preferred to shop on Amazon, Circuit City failed because they were so comically mismanaged they made people WANT to shop on Amazon. In a non-fantasy scenario, a consumer will choose the path of least resistance to get what they want. Going to a store and picking up something can be easier than buying it online, especially for people who lack credit or debit cards. But when a retail store is run badly, it can become more convenient to order something online and wait several days for it to arrive at your house than it is to go in person. What am I talking about? Keep reading and find out.

While Circuit City had been highly successful during the mid-90s to early 2000s (mostly on the popularity of CDs and DVDs), after the year 2002, Circuit City entered a downward spiral for reasons I just can’t explain. I may have only taken one college-level business course in my life (which was more an IT class than about business) but I must assume a retail store is only successful if it actually SELLS THINGS. At some point in the 2000s, Circuit City just gave up selling things. They actually stopped staffing people at their registers, which meant all purchases would have to be made at Customer Service. This may be okay for a simple retail store that sells things like clothes, it’s rare people don’t know their own sizes, but this is the dumbest policy ever for a high end electronics store to adopt. How? Imagine being forced to wait for hours behind retirees trying to talk their ways into returning computer accessories (without having to pay restocking fees) they likely purchased knowing absolutely nothing about what would or wouldn’t be compatible with their equipment. I’m not kidding, it would be common to see people that shouldn’t even own computers trying to scam refunds for stuff they never should’ve bought in the first place. Instead of opening a register so I could actually pay the company cash money for a GameCube game, they chose to waste their actual paying customers time. For at least five years, that would be the bare minimum for what I would have to endure EVERY time I shopped at Circuit City.

I already told you a horror story, but that’s just stories that happen when management gets cheap, what evidence do I have about incompetent management costing a company sales? In 2008, I wanted to pick up a Blu-Ray Disc of one of the biggest movies of that year, Iron Man. I went to Circuit City to pick up a copy around 3PM on the day of its release. The store manager (apparently he was the only person working that day if he was working the Customer Service line), told me off the cuff as he was ringing me up I bought their last copy, as he had only ordered nine Blu-Rays of Iron Man for the entire store. They had literally sold out before happy hour even started.

I looked at him as if he was the dumbest human being who ever set face on the earth and asked him, “This is the most critically and commercially successful new movie release of the year on a format that cemented its install base and has been itching for a good looking film to show off what it can do, why would you only order NINE copies?”

I never shopped at Circuit City again. The store shuttered in less than a year after that story happened.

Best Buy came into being during Circuit City’s heyday, but did not share Circuit City’s downfall. When the market shifted away from CDs and DVDs, Best Buy shifted to stocking video games, big screen HD (later UHD) TVs, and household wares (washing machines, microwaves, etc). Unlike Circuit City, Best Buy was willing to price compete with their competitors, which is probably why they got the name Best Buy. They also had a store where employees actually WORKED! Registers would be manned, and you could buy something quickly whenever you concluded your shopping. I know, who would’ve thought that would make them successful?

Over the years, however, Best Buy has seemed to be moving further and further down Circuit City’s dark path. First, it was the little things, like occasionally leaving all their registers completely unmanned, which to me still remains one of the more curious incompetencies of a retail store. If you run a company and want to save on having to employ cashiers, change the sign out front and say you’re a museum. It’ll save me thinking I can actually buy things there. However, to Best Buy’s credit, this has not been a permanent problem. Their issues lie elsewhere.

Over the years I’ve had other issues with Best Buy, but most of it has boiled down to poorly trained staff and mismanaged managers. For example, I can’t remember a single video game release day where a game’s stock was ready to sell, either on store shelves or held in the back for people who preordered the games. How can I buy something if you won’t actually put it on a shelf? As for evidence of poorly trained staff, there was a time I once asked an employee if they had a new game in stock which had came out that day and gave them the exact title of the game. The only person actually working there that day asked me, “Is that for the DS3?” and I shook my head and said, “No, there’s no such thing as a DS3, the game I want is on the 3DS.” Apparently I know more about what Best Buy sells then their employees do. I felt bad for the people coming in there that actually knew less than I did.

In my recent trips to Best Buy, I see all the familiar signs of a company running on fumes. I once tried to pick up a Collector’s Edition of a new game I had preordered, and that was a complete hassle. Instead of being given what I was ordered I was incorrectly handed an different game that, had I accepted, was worth thirty dollars less than the game I had actually ordered and paid for. Good times.

I last visited Best Buy to make a major purchase of something their website assured me they had in stock. After arriving at the store, they told me to sit and wait for someone to assist me. It was just about 11am and the store hadn’t been open for an hour at this point. After waiting for at least twenty minutes, the store’s manager realized whoever was supposed to help me was MIA, and offered to help me herself. After spending five more minutes doing someone else’s job (the person who was supposed to assist me never did show up by the way), thirty minutes into me being there she finally asked me why I was there in the first place. I asked if the item I was seeking was in stock, and if I could pay for it in full immediately and be on my way. She (incorrectly) told me it was not store policy to outright sell me what I wanted, and if I wanted to buy what I wanted from them, I would have to pay it in installments over the span of thirty months. After wasting thirty-five minutes of my life I would never get back, I told her to cancel everything she was doing, got up and walked out. I was literally shocked by the utter arrogance of their incompetence. While I could understand my wait due to understaffing caused by the current world events, there was absolutely no legitimate reason they couldn’t sell me what I wanted, since I was able to buy exactly what I needed somewhere else with no hassle.

These stories are not the angry squabbles of an entitled consumer, never once have I ever asked for a freebie or any bonus for all the trouble I have endured. In several cases, had I not spoken out before being sold something, Best Buy’s employees would have sold me incorrect products at higher prices than their value, or put me on grueling payment plans I did not want to be a part of. In a sane world, successful companies are successful because they provide either a better service, lower price, or higher supply of an in-demand product. I mean, that’s probably written on the first page of every basic business textbook ever printed. You can’t blame Amazon for a failing company who chooses to hire incompetent people, poorly train them, and set incorrect priorities for their managers, you blame the failing company. When Best Buy fails, like Circuit City before them, it will be their own fault.


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