December 21, 2006, - 2:50 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Hey, Guys, remember that store, “Best Buy,” where you used to buy your electronic gadgets? Well, you’re no longer welcome.
After reading today’s USA Today article on the feminization of Best Buy, perhaps a name change is in order: Breast Buy. Men, you are out–and uteruses (uteri?)–are in at the mass-retailer.
Read these excerpts. Best Buy looking for sales associates from Victoria’s Secret? Low, soft music? Affirmative action for female hiring and promotions? Huh? Is this an electronics store or the set of ABC yenta-fest “The View”?:
“We were a boy’s toy store designed for boys by boys,” says Julie Gilbert, vice president of Best Buy.
Well, no more. The “feminization” of the consumer electronics business is underway.
Instead of hitting high-tech hysteria at Best Buy (BBY) this holiday season, shoppers may notice a softer, more personal atmosphere. Music is quieter. Lights are lower. Salespeople talk to customers about their lifestyles . . . .
Aisles have been widened so baby strollers fit through easily. And more stores are displaying little living rooms with wide-screen TVs and surround-sound speakers to show customers what the equipment will look like in their homes.
Women now influence 90% of consumer electronics purchases, from the type and look of the big-screen TV to the color of the iPod speakers for the living room, Best Buy says. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates their influence is less, but still significant and growing. It says women influence 57% of purchases, or $80 billion of the $140 billion spent on consumer electronics this year. . . .
“Women likely will notice and appreciate some of the changes more.”
About four years ago Best Buy realized that women were warming up to technology. . . .
Overnight, it seemed, consumer electronics became a design element. . . . “The products we sell and the services we sell are about trends and fashion.”
Best Buy executives started focusing on feedback from female shoppers, and it wasn’t good. Many women felt that the sales staff – the “Blue Shirts” that tended to be young men – were dismissive.
“Women couldn’t get anyone to help them,” Gilbert says. “They weren’t treated with respect.”
This constant whine from women is total BS. I’ve never had a problem getting anyone–at Best Buy (er . . . Breast Buy) or elsewhere–to take my money. Puh-leeze. Some of these women want a psychologist or hairdresser, not someone who’s selling them an IPod.
So in 2002, the company embarked on an ambitious “customer-centric” plan that started out with four distinct personalities for its stores to focus on. It gave the personalities names like Barry (an affluent tech enthusiast); Jill (a busy suburban mom); Buzz (a young gadget fiend) and Ray (a price-conscious family guy).
In 2005, 40% of 300 stores it redecorated were aimed at Barry, with a separate home-theater department and specialists in mobile electronics. Jill stores had personal shopping assistants for busy moms. Buzz stores had lots of video games, and Ray stores focused on low prices. Some stores had two or more personas going at once.
“We’ve evolved since then,” says spokeswoman Dawn Bryant. . . .
Eventually, all of its nearly 750 U.S. stores will be revamped with a softer, more user-friendly decor and more personalized services, basically the Jill model. Some stores have been completely redesigned, while others have undergone only small changes so far. . . .
Best Buy decided to expand the number of stores with Magnolia displays from 127 to 300 this year. And they included more lower-priced TV systems in the displays, too.
“Women are drawn to flat-panel TVs,” Gilbert says. “They want that big, clunky TV out of the living room.”
To lure more female shoppers, Best Buy also is changing its workforce. . . .
The company is pushing to add more female Blue Shirts and store general managers. About 25% of its U.S. employees are women. Though that percentage hasn’t changed, the total number of employees has risen, so more women are employed at Best Buy.
The company also is beginning to promote more women. Since January, it has increased the number of female store general managers by 4% and the number of women in training to be general managers by 4%. It has doubled the number of women working in home theater departments in the past four months, it says. . . .
“Women consumers are seeing a lot more women in our stores, and that makes it less frightening and less intimidating,” says Anna Gallina, general manager of Best Buy’s North Palm Beach, Fla., store, which has 40% female employees. [DS: Huh? I've never been "frightened" or "intimidated" shopping at Best Buy. What are these conniptive, hysterical women talking about?!] She says she’s seen big changes in the company since she joined 10 years ago as assistant manager of a store in Miami. . . .
To find more female employees, the company has started recruiting not just from electronics competitors – such as Wal-Mart, Target and Circuit City – but from other types of retailers. “We’re recruiting from Nordstrom’s, Victoria’s Secret, Origins or other stores where women love to shop,” Bryant says. “We can teach them about consumer electronics. But we want them to understand and be excited about women’s lifestyles.”
Gilbert, who has helped direct the feminization of Best Buy, also leads 22 groups of about 25 female employees each who meet once a month. The women are from all ranks of the company, and the groups’ goals are to build leadership skills, network and push innovation through the company. The so-called wolf packs are part of a strategy to train, support and promote women within Best Buy.
Their goal is for 50% of the workforce to be women, including one day the CEO, says Gilbert, whose title is vice president of Women’s Leadership Forum (WoLF) and Entrepreneurial Initiatives.
“We’re working with the Girl Scouts, with private female colleges and others to recruit amazing women so we can delight our women customers,” Gilbert says. “Imagine opening your front door, and it’s a woman on the Geek Squad.” . . .
“We’re not going to paint the stores pink.”
Thank Heaven for small favors.
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