The world is better off with Best Buy alive than dead

commentary Best Buy talks a lot about survival these days. It would be the last big box specialty electronics retailer to go.

A Lenovo Yoga convertible ultrabook on display at a Los Angeles Best Buy. It's still the best place to comparison shop for gadgets in a physical store.
A Lenovo Yoga convertible ultrabook on display at a Los Angeles Best Buy. It's still the best place to comparison shop for gadgets in a physical store. Brooke Crothers

Despite all the flak Best Buy gets from consumers and financial analysts, the world is probably a better place with it than without it.

For those who don't follow Best Buy as a business, existential questions have been dogging it for years. The word "Titanic" often comes up.

Not all that surprising, considering brick-and-mortar electronics retail stalwarts CompUSA and Circuit City have all but disappeared.

Here's what the new CEO, Hubert Joly, said Friday during the earnings conference call, via a transcript provided by Seeking Alpha.

"In fiscal '13, we permanently closed 49 large-format stores and expected to close an additional 5 to 10 large-format stores in fiscal 2014."

That's a lot of store closings.

"People who thought we were dead have to go through the painful process of revisiting that point of view," Mr. Joly told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

I've wondered many times if my regular weekly visit to the local Best Buy would be my last. And still do.

But I like knowing the store is there.

Best Buy is really the only electronics specialty store besides Fry's Electronics (mostly a West Coast phenomenon) that packs lots of PCs, Macs, tablets, and phones into relatively small abutting areas, allowing you to easily comparison shop.

And Best Buy carries a good cross section of the most popular gadgets. It had Microsoft's Surface tablet pretty soon after the device came out, despite some initial display hiccups (see photo below), and it has a decent stock of Windows 8 touch-screen laptops and tablets, Android stuff, and of course Apple products.

Of course, there's plenty to complain about. But those same gripes apply to Fry's and to just about any big box electronics retailer that's ever existed, including Circuit City and CompUSA.

What's ahead for Best Buy? Who knows? But Apple stores and now Microsoft's expanding retail presence aren't making it any easier. And during Friday's call, Best Buy executives kept talking about expanding/improving the store's online presence.

Problem is, online is often the last gasp for physical big box retailers.

Nothing to see here. Not that atypical for a Best Buy display. I went to my local Los Angeles store looking for Microsoft's Surface tablet the other day and I found this mess.
Nothing to see here. Not that atypical for a Best Buy display. I went to my local Los Angeles store looking for Microsoft's Surface tablet the other day and I found this mess. Brooke Crothers
Updated at 5:40 p.m.: corrects reference to Windows version on touch-screen tablets.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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