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Best Buy CEO: Pandemic made us 'meet that customer where they are'

As lockdowns upend retail, Best Buy's new chief tells CES attendees that taking care of customers and employees is more important than short-term profit.

Best Buy customers leave the store wearing masks. CEO Corie Barry said retailers will need to continue offering a variety of options for getting products to shoppers.
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Corie Barry had quite a first year as Best Buy's chief executive officer. The newly minted CEO steered the electronics retailer through the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and all the changes it brought to what customers bought and how they got their purchases. Barry told virtual CES attendees Tuesday that she thinks demand for services like curbside pickup will continue in the years to come -- and that companies will define their brands in part based on how smooth they can make the process for customers.

Whether it's at home, at the curbside or in the store, "We need to agnostically meet that customer where they are," Barry said.

Best Buy has fared well during the pandemic, reporting increases in in-store and online sales in the quarter ending in October. It's also had a front-row seat to the needs of office workers who transitioned to working from home. Many customers started out by buying new computers for home offices. After following that up by buying a web cam and a microphone, Barry said, customers might think, "Then I want a nice ring light so it looks like I step outside sometimes."

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To meet increased demand for products and to deliver them in the ways customers wanted during the pandemic, the company implemented changes that previously would've been planned over months or years, Barry said. The company also became more flexible about changing a new process at stores, even if it had just rolled out.

The response was important, Barry said, because customers will remember that a specific brand took care of them during the pandemic. Getting that right, along with employee health and safety, is more important for the brand long term than a shorter term profit, Barry said.

Barry also said she learned about her own leadership style when faced by the disruptions of the pandemic.

"No matter how much you think you know about how you will lead in this role, you genuinely have no idea until you see the challenges in front of you," she said.