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Best Buy revamps old-school model

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By Bloomberg News
Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

When Best Buy Co. trotted out its new rewards program last month, riffing on the word “my,” the name had a familiar ring.

“My Best Buy” sounds a lot like “My Macy's” from the Macy's Inc. department-store chain, “MyLowe's” from home-improvement retailer Lowe's Cos. and even Zoeller Co.'s “MyPlumbingStuff.”

Best Buy Chief Executive Officer Hubert Joly is borrowing that two-letter word and plenty more from rivals to improve the retailer's e-commerce operations, which even his own colleagues say had fallen a decade behind. While the website won't seriously vie with Amazon.com Inc. any time soon, Best Buy can harness its brand recognition and status as the largest consumer-electronics retailer to grab e-commerce share. The efforts may already be helping, with Best Buy's online traffic rising 9.9 percent in August from a year earlier, according to data from Compete.com that the company uses.

“They're the 800-pound gorilla,” David Strasser, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in New York who recommends buying the shares, said in an interview. “After struggling with no real Internet expertise, they've brought on a pretty strong team.”

Joly set about shoring up the physical stores after taking over as CEO about a year ago, cutting $390 million in annual costs and matching rivals' online prices to slow the decline in same-store sales.

The stabilization has helped restore investors' confidence in Richfield, Minn.-based Best Buy. The stock, which traded at an 86 percent discount to the Standard & Poor's 500 Index on a price-to-earnings basis in January, has tripled this year and closed at a 6.8 percent premium to the index today. The shares slipped 0.8 percent to $37.66 at the close in New York.

Breathing room

That rebound gives Joly, 54, some breathing room as he works to convert more of Best Buy's 1 billion annual online visitors into buyers. Slightly more than one of every 100 visitors makes a purchase, about half the average rate among retailers, according to UBS AG.

Joly has set a target of more than doubling Best Buy's share of U.S. online consumer-electronics sales to 18 percent — matching its share of brick-and-mortar sales — from the current 7 percent.

“There is no reason it should be lower,” Joly said in a telephone interview in August. Bringing BestBuy.com up to speed with competitors “is going to be a two- or three-year journey.”

About a month after becoming CEO, he hired Scott Durchslag from online travel company Expedia Inc. as president of Best Buy's global e-commerce operations.

Joly's hires

A month later, Joly brought Sharon McCollam out of retirement to become Best Buy's chief financial officer and chief administrative officer. In similar roles at Williams- Sonoma Inc., she helped push online sales to 40 percent of total revenue. Now, Joly is hiring more than 100 Web architects, engineers and other technology workers.

The team is starting with the basics, adding more product reviews and buying guides to the website and enabling it to recommend additional purchases for shoppers as they check out.

Best Buy began testing shipping online orders from stores to customers' homes four months ago, catching up to Nordstrom Inc., which has filled online orders from stores since 2009.

“My Best Buy,” which has 41 million active members, lets shoppers redeem reward points and shop on a single site, bringing it up to speed with programs such as Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. and Panera Bread Co. Best Buy's previous loyalty program, “Reward Zone,” wasn't linked to BestBuy.com, forcing users to log onto both sites to turn points into purchases.

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