What Happened to the Store with Incomplete Digital Transformation


People asked me to follow up on my experience at Best Buy. Spoiler: The particular store where I had my bad experience has closed. I'll give you some details

Inventory arrives

My product arrived (transferred from another store)! I went to the store, and my unit was on the shelf with a note scrawled on it. The store manager told an assistant to go get it before "someone else buys it." Huh..I thought it was meant for me, but it seemed to be some stock transfer. I'm glad I got there on time.

Time to pay

I started to pay, and noticed that it was rung up at their retail price, not the discounted sale price, which prompted me to buy this item in the first place. I informed the cashier, who shrugged and said, "That's what the system is telling me to charge you. I guess the sale is over."

Didn't I order the unit earlier, and even offer to pay that day, and they said "Just pay when you pick it up"? He asked his manager, who also shrugged.

Now, I didn't want to beat up on the clerk, and the total difference wasn't going to break the bank, so I just paid the full price, and made a mental note to be wary of them.

Store Closes

I continued to patronize this store, but there was always this sour taste. Finally, I went noticed that the store had closed. Other branches in the area do continue to operate.

Was it related to the general problems I saw? Who knows, but it certainly did not help. I bet other people were not happy, and most likely its sales performance did not justify its continued operation.

Lessons and Comparison to Target

Let's compare this to another store: Target. Not exactly known as a  barnstormer in the digital world, but certainly famous in the affordable-chic segment. They seem to have this digital transformation thing down. You can order something online, and pick it up at the store. If the store doesn't have it, they will offer to ship to the store or directly to you. If you want to pick it up at the store, there are frequent email notifications on the progress of the order. The experience was smooth.

The clerks all carry portable tablet computers that let them locate items on shelves or check prices or inventory. Many of them are wearing headsets with microphones to talk to each other. They wear easily identifiable shirts. The employees seem to walk around expressing an eagerness to complete a mission or at least are trained to create that perception. Contrast that with the aforementioned electronics store, where there was a certain sluggishness that I detected. Who knows, maybe they knew their store was closing and had lost enthusiasm. 

To be fair, the Best Buy does have web to store pickup, but the implementation was clumsy. I went to pick up an order at a counter, and after a few minutes of looking for my item, they came back to me and asked "What did you order again?" But they do wear recognizable blue shirts.


Digital transformation is not isolated to the technology of inventory control or even the website. If this change is to translate into quicker response to customers, dealing with customers who come from different channels (walk-in or web), with different payment types, the employees (sorry, some of them call them "crewmembers") need to be "with the program."

If they embrace this change, then the entire system meshes together and provides a good customer experience. Providing the latest inventory viewing app on a tablet to an employee who:

  • Doesn't really care about customer satisfaction, or
  • Is not given authority to make decisions and constantly hands the customers off to another store employee (i.e., passing the buck)

is not destined for success. As trite or over-used as the term "digital transformation" is, it needs to be addressed holistically. This applies to retail, hospitality, or financial services. I've seen many examples where there is utter failure to get the whole organization involved, so the weakest link destroys the aspirations of many. I've also seen cases where things seem to click. Was it luck or by design? I suspect it was by design.

Whether we can find a pattern that can be applied to many aspiring firms is the big question. I suspect there is not a simple template, but there are many lessons to be learned.

Topics: Networking Digital Transformation