Innovation Isn’t Just a Buzzword

It’s not exactly a news flash that computer and electronics retailers face extraordinarily tough challenges. Their margins are typically thin, their overhead is high, and they face tough competition from online stores and outlets such as Amazon. Over the years, we’ve seen a long list of electronics superstores open and shutter, including Circuit City, CompUSA, Federated Group, Good Guys and Silo.

At the moment, Best Buy stands atop the heap. It offers a reasonably good selection of products, a pleasant enough experience and, at least in my hometown of Portland, Ore., relatively good service and support. However, at the same time, Best Buy illustrates how retailers—and a lot of other companies in a lot of industries—fall down and ding their brand.

A couple of recent interactions illustrate this point:

Incident #1: Soon after Apple Pay went live, I attempted to use the mobile payment system at Best Buy, which has the required terminals in place. However, the cashier informed me that Apple Pay wasn’t available because it posed a major security risk. Apparently, her manager had told her so.

Of course, Apple Pay uses tokens with randomly generated codes along with encryption and Touch ID, while credit and debit cards use obsolete unencrypted magstripe technology. The real reason for dissing these mobile wallets? The retailer is part of a competing group called CurrentC, which hopes to harvest marketing data.

Incident #2: On a recent visit to Best Buy, the customer in front of me grabbed his smartphone and displayed an e-version of his rewards card to the cashier. Her response? “We don’t have scanners to read the barcode. I’ll need to see your card or input your telephone number.”

Wow. I’ve visited plenty of other retailers—some of them selling decidedly low-tech products—that already have scanners able to read barcodes from phones.

Let’s get something straight: If you’re attempting to sell state-of-the-art stuff, it’s probably a good idea to look and act like a state-of-the-art store. Today, that means incorporating things like beacons and geofencing capabilities, mobile payments and wallets, and introducing an overall customer experience that is decidedly high tech, if not magical.

Apple understands this. Disney understands this. Starbucks understands this. American Express understands this. Most other companies? Not so much.

These days, whatever industry you’re in or whatever you sell or do, technology is at the center of everything. Sophisticated consumers want—even demand—sophisticated solutions that make things easier and better. And they will judge your company and your brand based on what you deliver … or fail to deliver.