Best Buy and Apple: Friend or Foe?

by Janet Meyer Oct 24, 2006

In June I wrote that Apple was going to begin working with Best Buy again. To make the collaboration work better than last time (when Best Buy stopped selling Macs), Apple planned to educate Best Buy staff so they could talk intelligently about its product.

The pilot appears to have been at least partly successful. Apple announced that it is expanding from its current seven stores in California to about fifty stores throughout the nation. If the partnership continues to work, Best Buy has expressed an interest in offering Apple Computers at most of its stores.

At about the same time Best Buy and Apple announced their expansion, Best Buy launched its music download store. The Best Buy digital download store works in conjunction with RealNetworks and Sandisk and in competition with iTunes.

There has been some controversy over whether selling Apple Computers at places other than Apple stores will work against Apple. Some online readers have commented that the same things that made it ineffective last time will likely continue to happen; in other words, Best Buy employees won’t really be educated about Apple, and will tend to steer customers towards whatever system they know best. Others contend that it will just take customers away from Apple Computer stores.

Some of this concern is justified. Reader comments show that Mac users have already had difficulty getting Best Buy employees to discuss Apple products with them. Maybe this is one reason the pilot has only been expanded to 50 stores. Then again, starting at 7 stores doesn’t give either company a lot of information to determine if they will work well together.

Apple seems to think it’s a good move to provide more outlets for consumers. They are starting a similar pilot program with Circuit City.

I think it’s important for anybody selling products to make it easy for consumers to purchase them. Apple stores aren’t as readily available as Best Buy and Circuit City. Most Windows users won’t make the decision to switch to Mac without some hands-on experience and the opportunity to talk to somebody in person about the advantages of a Mac. I’m from one of those areas where Macs are hard to find. I had never given any consideration to Apples until I saw the iBooks at our local school and spent some time with one of the teachers who uses them.

For me, the teacher at the school was the starting point in my research. At Best Buy, potential new users will learn from sales staff. This only works, of course, if employees know how to talk about Apple products.

It will be interesting to see how or if the collaboration will be influenced by Best Buy’s decision to compete for iTMS business. Best Buy will continue to sell iPods and also wants to offer the Zune mp3. In an article at Information Week, Best Buy says that it plans to match customers to the service that works best for them.

At the moment it seems that Best Buy is trying to profit by getting a piece of everybody’s pie. That’s probably not a bad strategy. I’m just wondering how long it will last. It would seem obvious that Best Buy would be convinced that its new service is suitable for more customers than the other mp3 players and music download services.

Maybe it won’t be long before Best Buy sells Apple Computers all over the nation but stops selling iPods. What do you think?



  • That last sentence really came out of left field and doesn’t appear to follow from any part of the article.

    Selling Macs but not iPods sounds like a pretty poor revenue strategy to me. I’m certain the profit margins on an iPod are much better than the margins for a whole computer, and we all know the iPod sells better by volumes (or else Apple would have a 50% desktop market share). So how does one conclude Best Buy would drop the iPod just because they are also offering the Zune?

    In any case, Best Buy really does a poor job of selling everything in its inventory. Now I don’t mean in terms of volume—clearly they are a profitable company, but no matter what you are shopping for, whether it’s a computer, washer/dryer, TV or refridgerator, the typical Best Buy employee knows only what they can read off the “features” tag on the product… and sometimes not even that. How is that helpful to me as a consumer? I can read the tags too.

    The only way this pilot program can work is if Best Buy hires specific Mac-centric employees to sell Apple equipment like Apple Store does. Same for Circuit City. If, and this is a big if, they were to hire Mac “Specialists” as a part of their sales force, it *might* work. It is more likely, however, that the Mac consumer is going to face the typical sales drone.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 243
  • VB, sorry I was unclear with that last sentence. The reason I questioned the continued sale of iPods isn’t because of Zune, but because Best Buy is competing with iTMS in the download music world and working with Sandisk to do this. It seems in Best Buy’s best interest to promote Sandisk.

    Even though Best Buy says they want to offer a variety so they can the service to their customers, they definitely have a vested interest in the player that promotes their site.

    Janet Meyer had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 36
  • FOE !!!! For sure….I have been noticing that everytime I wanted to by an Ipod at Best buy they go out of there way sell me a different MP3 player telling me Ipod are bad and Creative is what I need or some other has happen to me in 3 different Best buy ..Sometime the Best buy Rep even told me that most of the Ipod are defective and only work on Mac and they don’t work on PC because PC’s use Wmv files….blablablabla….. I never told them that I’m a big Mac fan so I listen to all there lies and said nothing ...I will never buy Macs/ipod at best buy they don’t understand macs or ipod at all….there all windows nerds in there lol…j/k

    Stay away from Best buy there are Foes!!!

    Try it yourself…!!!

    gogoapple had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 3
  • Unless Best Buy sets up a special Apple-only area/aisle with a trained and easily identified Mac Specialist that actually owns one, and a good selection of Mac software, similar to what CompUSA did, this is going to fail miserably.

    I, too, have had pitiful technical assistance at Best Buy; it’s the WalMart of electronics stores. You MUST do you homework BEFORE you step one foot into the blue-yellow box, because all that the blue-shirted boys and girls know how to do is to vaguely point to the other side of the store and mutter unconvincingly “It’s over there.”

    As is very common there, the Apple computers will soon get the usual thick coating of dust on all of the display items, with dirty keyboards and fingerprinted mice, surrounded by all sorts of old and discarded signage and miscellaneous trash. Price signs old or missing.

    To compound the problem further, the store’s source of technical knowledge, the Geek Squad, will spew their Mac myths and rumors as if it were fact. Macs might as well be a UFO… “My uncle Jeb saw one once, and he’ll never go near one again! So, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

    You’d get much better and faster help if you just order it online at

    Aryugaetu had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 10
  • I use to work in montgomery ward… like 12 years ago, and most of the sales people get commission per sale. at that time you wold get around 100 to 80 buck per PC and 40 to 30 out of a Mac sale. Do the math and tell me what you are gonna sell.

    I don`t know how thy work on best buy but if this is the case… well you know what will happen.

    thetnt had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 8
  • The first 7 test stores have full time Apple Solution Consultants (Apple employees) manning each store. They help sell Apple Products and train the staff at the store.I’m assuming the same will happen in the next 50.

    This works great in the CompUSA’s that have them, and the only way it will succeed in Best Buy.

    appleboy had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 1
  • competing with iTMS in the download music world

    Ok, gotcha. Although I still think it would be a huge mistake for them from a revenue stand point to cut out iPods. If 75% of your MP3 player customers come in to look for a specific product, and you don’t carry it, those customers will go across the street to Circuit City, Walmart or whomever else to get their iPod fix… and perhaps spend other money on accessories or other products. Best Buy would be insane to do that, even with the SanDisk deal.

    appleboy writes:
    This works great in the CompUSA’s that have them

    Perhaps in your neck of the woods. The CompUSA “Store In A Store” in Norfolk is hit and miss. Sometimes you do get the “Mac guy” who owns one and actually knows his stuff and wants to help the Mac consumer, but generally you just get whatever staff is assigned to work that part of the floor (near monitors, peripherals, etc) and their knowledge is meager.

    Also, the Norfolk CompUSA has a pretty lackluster selection of software. Their available shelf space for the Apple section is pitiful. I suppose if you live in a larger city, the CompUSA’s might have a slightly better Apple section, but around here that’s simply not the case.

    Luckily, Norfolk just got its new Apple Store earlier this summer.  I’m not certain what that means for the CompUSA here. Hopefully, they’ll want to improve their Apple image to better compete, rather than throwing in the towel and letting their Apple area languish further. At least the demo Macs were in decent shape.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 243
  • To compound the problem further, the store’s source of technical knowledge, the Geek Squad, will spew their Mac myths and rumors as if it were fact.

    I forgot to comment on this.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it were actually an unwritten (but well understood) policy of Geek Squad employees to do this.

    If you think about it, they have little to gain from the purchase of a Mac since those users would never call Geek Squad for help, even if they needed it. It’s really a Windows business and they want to make money, so I wouldn’t be surprised that they’d steer potential customers toward their sacred cash cow.

    A good friend of mine has been running his own PC support business for a couple years now and almost every client of his is a Windows user. He did have one Mac client who needed help, so he called me.

    It was such a minor problem, I had it figured out in 5 minutes with Google. I didn’t even charge him for the consult (though I’m sure he billed the client for a 1/2 hour or somesuch).

    Anyway, the point is that support companies (Geek Squad, Call-A-Nerd, whatnot) rarely see businees from Mac users—which is a somewhat odd, because it’s not like Mac users never have *any* problems… just sign up for a Genius Bar consult to find out.

    However, I think for the Mac user, it’s a different kind of problem. Mac users more often have the “How do I do this <thing>?” kind of question rather than the “My machine is totally wonked” issues my friend sees. The “how do I” questions aren’t a good revenue stream because they’re often quickly or easily answered with a few internet searches. The “my machine is wonked” problem is a PC support guy’s billable wet dream.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 243
  • Mac users more often have the “How do I do this <thing>?” kind of question rather than the “My machine is totally wonked” issues my friend sees.

    It’s not that Macs don’t have technical issues.  It’s that when they do, Mac-tards tell those people to shut up and stop whining, that the problems (like exploding batteries, dislodged heat sinks, discoloration, random shut downs, erasing firewire drives, etc) are all completely overblown and the result of a vocal insignicant minority.

    Pretending that problems don’t exist is not the same as there being no problems at all.

    And I’d be willing to bet that, like your exeprience supporting Macs, the VAST majority of Geek Squad support is from inexperienced users who don’t know how to do things like install RAM on their own or other issues beyond actual breakdowns.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Beeblebrox has a point.  As a Computer Consultant myself, I can tell you a lot of home users have questions about “how to do something” and are willing to pay a little to get the answer.  The mac users are usually more willing to part with the money for a “how” solution, and you can speculate on why that is, but that’s how it is.

    I’ve done a lot more PC support than mac, but being a mac user I’ve seen first hand some weird things.  Macs are still Computers.  In fact, MS put out some extremely reliable software… MS DOS for instance grin

    vb_baysider has a point too.  Mac issues are usually easier to fix.  An order of magnatude easier.  I’ve spent hours on support for windows, and back in the day been on the other end of windows support calls.  It’s way more trouble to fix an average windows problem than an average mac problem.  But the average “how to do something” questions are about the same for both (even though mac usually have less steps, I wouldn’t call them harder steps {on average} ).

    I can really summerize why Windows is harder to deal with than MacOS in a short comment: “Windows Registry vs Mac Preferences folder”. 

    And now for the longer explaination: Many programs that don’t even need Registry entries still have them and can fail to work if their registry entries are messed up.  Mac Preference files can get messed up too, but all the settings for a program are in the System or User’s Preference Folder in a single file with that programs name on it.  And Mac programs look for the file and recreate it if it’s been deleted. 

    Sure, in Windows, you can delete “all the settings” in the registry for a program (if you can find them, often dozens of them in different branches of the registry not even completely documented in the support documentation), but some programs, in fact many programs, won’t work if you delete some important registry entries.  That means reinstall the whole program and if there are still registry entries for that program, when you start the install, it can cause the install to fail and you have to find a way to clean up the registry before you can install the software again.  Some of the better manufactures include a forced uninstaller on the software install CD or as a seperate download, but even with those your milage will varry. 

    Don’t get me wrong.  There are real world cases where Windows PCs are currently the best solution.  As far as that goes, there are some wher Linux is better than a Mac too.

    This does all add up to more billable hours on each call, and more customer depencancy.  But that’s the good side…

    The downside is that people are getting less done, working harder to get the same done, or at least dealing with more stress to get it done.  As a Patriot, I want to see everyone getting more done and with less stress.  I want to live in a strong country where we as a nation push forward as efficiently as possible.  Encouraging the use of second rate solutions to make a profit when they fail is immoral.

    We should all look carefully at what our motivations are before we give advice because we will find ourselves accountable for that advice later.


    IamWm had this to say on Oct 24, 2006 Posts: 24
  • Let’s get real here. Best Buy is the last place you want to buy something that you did not research yourself first. The only correct information I got from a Best Buy employee is directions to their Rest Rooms. And I’ve been in quite a few Best Buys.

    If you’re going to sell Apple product in Best Buy, than it better be in it’s own section of the store staffed with an Apple trained employee. What Macs I have seen in Best Buy stores are typically on a little shelf no where near other computers where cutomers are looking. These Macs were also dusty and dirty, and either turned off or barely on.


    So the bottom line is this:
    1. If you’ve research the Mac you want, just buy it from an Apple Store or from
    2. If you’re not sure what Mac you want, than do your research online and read reviews, than follow # 1 above.
    3. If you have no choice but to go to a Retailer to look or buy a Mac, find a CompUSA.

    Note: I am not a Best Buy hater, just an observer. I do not work for CompUSA. I am tech savy and buy lots of electronic gear.

    PepDaddy had this to say on Oct 26, 2006 Posts: 1
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