Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why I Hate Best Buy

I like technology.  At one point I was a Certified Electronics Technician and a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.  I spent a full year of my higher education studying electronics and building things like AM/FM radios, wireless transmitters, and even my own Digital Multimeter.  I've built my own circuit boards from scratch including using acid to etch the circuit traces, I've built my own computers, wired numerous vehicles with audio systems, worked in the IT industry for over a decade, held the title of "Engineer" at more than one point in my career, and am the guy who friends and family members call when they need someone to wire their home theater or troubleshoot a PC problem.  I'm what you might call a geek.  I admit this and don't feel it is a derogatory term.

With all of that said... I hate Best Buy.  In fact, of all of the techie (or dare I say geeky) people I know... none of them like Best Buy.  People like me tend to treat Best Buy as nothing more than a showroom for Amazon, Newegg, or Monoprice because we know enough to prevent us from actually buying anything from Best Buy.

It isn't that Best Buy doesn't have what I want - because they often do.  One of their primary problems is their prices are outrageous and even their sale prices are above what I can find the same product for elsewhere.  When it comes to accessories like cables and television mounts they are often times 500% to 1000% more expensive than their online counterparts.

However prices alone aren't even the reason I hate Best Buy.  I hate them because of the atmosphere they have created.  I hate them because of their policies.  I hate them because of their high-pressure sales tactics, continual desire to upsell everything, and sales staff that act as if they are well versed in electronics and that the customer could not possibly know more than they do.  I hate that they go out of their way to manipulate customers by using shady tactics to make less expensive televisions look worse than the more expensive alternatives or how they have product displays meant to convince people that products from Monster Cable or Bose are somehow superior than anything else.

Most of all however, I just hate that Best Buy makes you feel like you need to take a shower after you visit one of their stores.  Their customer service is horrid.  They push extended service contracts on EVERYTHING even when it makes no sense, and their salespeople are always trying to push add-ons or accessories to items that the customer simply doesn't need.

The last time I was at Best Buy I overheard one of their salespeople brag about how he was actually an employee of Apple and not of Best Buy.  Whether that is true I have no idea, but he spent the next ten minutes name dropping other Apple Employees in the area and calling himself an Engineer while customers who were looking at Apple products were ignored.

Over in the television department I had a salesman try to push me to DirecTV and bragging about their new channel lineups and how they had the NFL Sunday Ticket package before he actually knew what I had for television service or before he could be bothered to ask if I was a football fan.  He then went on to talk about the new 3D televisions as he rattled off specifications as if I should be impressed.  After I responded and informed him that I felt passive 3D technology was superior to the active system he was pushing (and I provided him reasons to support my viewpoint), he suddenly realized I wasn't just another ignorant consumer before he said in a passive-aggressive manner "maybe you should work here".

Yea right.  That would be a great career move.  Thanks, but no thanks.

I also noticed during my recent visit that a six foot HDMI cable was selling for $49.99.  Over in the videogame department, a different brand of HDMI cable was selling for $59.99.  I would love to hear the logic behind why they feel a HDMI cable for a videogame system is worth $10 more than an overpriced HDMI cable for a television, but frankly I didn't have the patience to ask one of the salesman for an explanation.  It is a digital signal - there is no need to go crazy for name brand expensive ultra high-end cables because every comparison test I have ever seen says they aren't worth the price, yet do you think Best Buy would offer a bargain cable that might appeal to the consumer?  Of course not.

The saddest part is another customer was in the process of buying one of those $50 cables and I didn't have the heart to tell them they could buy a cable that works just as well as is just as good of quality over at Monoprice for under $5.  In fact you can even get your choice of color and the cable will run $3.50 (or about 93% less cost). 

Then I noticed the price of their flat panel television mounts.  For the larger televisions, the price ranged from $129.99 to $199.99!  Are you serious.... $200 for a television mount?  I bought one a few years back from Monoprice and it ran under $25... including shipping.  That mount that Best Buy wants $200 for was a low profile mount - a generic version of that same style mount costs under $12 at Monoprice.

I understand brick and mortar stores need to charge a bit more.  I get it.  What I don't understand is why Best Buy often charges 10, 15, or 20 times as much for a nearly identical product.  Obviously nobody who is "in the know" would ever buy these types of items from Best Buy, so the only thing I can assume is that they are selling cables and wall mounts and speaker wire to people who simply don't know any better.  Is this a good business model?  Rely upon uneducated consumers as your target market?

As I said price is not the only reason I hate Best Buy.  I also hate the fact that they feel the need to "optimize" computers via their in-house Geek Squad technicians (and I use the term technician loosely here).  I've actually heard of experiences where people have tried to buy laptops from Best Buy but they have been unable to because Best Buy refuses to sell one without them adding unnecessary fees to it for their optimization service.

When it comes to LCD or Plasma calibration services it is even more idiotic.  Best Buy charges ignorant consumers $200 to "calibrate" their television which could be done by any owner within 10 or 15 minutes simply by searching for their specific model of television on a website like AVSForum and following the suggested settings.  The worse (and shadiest) part of this is that Best Buy has been caught on several occasions showing calibrated and non-calibrated televisions side by side in an effort to convince people to spend the extra money, but it has been discovered that they show a High Definition (HD) signal on the calibrated set while they show a Standard Definition (SD) signal on the non-calibrated set.  Some people have no shame.

I have also noticed that they can charge anywhere from $39.99 to $99.99 to perform basic tasks on a PC such as installing anti-virus software or applying OS patches and updates.  In many cases if they install software all they do is insert the disk, click next, next, next, finish... and charge the customer $40.  I fail to see how this is at all reasonable - especially when they rely upon consumers not knowing any better.

Of course if you do end up purchasing something from Best Buy, be prepared to be bombarded at the checkout as the clerk makes one final push to convince you that the service plan is a great idea.  Then of course there is a rewards program that you should be a member of, there is a great deal on their on-demand video service or a discount on DirecTV that you need to be aware of.  Do you need any batteries or a gift card to go along with that?  Fifteen minutes later you might be able to head for the exit only to have the "Security" guard ask to see your receipt because you happen to walk a total of 20 feet from the cash register to the door and obviously that suggests you must have been trying to steal something.

When it comes to returns, things don't get any better.  I was once near their service desk when a rather angry customer was trying to return a dishwasher.  He had paid for one model, but after driving home and installing the dishwasher, it was discovered Best Buy had given him the wrong model.  He apparently tried to resolve the issue over the phone, but since Best Buy didn't believe him he had no choice but to uninstall the dishwasher, drive all the way back to Best Buy, and then argue with a manager about how their screwup was their fault and he should be compensated.

Did I mention the guy had a two hour drive to his home?  Yea... I imagine I would be slightly upset as well, yet the part of the conversation I was hearing involved the manager trying to blame the customer for not checking the model number on the box against his receipt.  This is the mentality at Best Buy - when in doubt, just blame the customer.

I could go on for hours.  I have at least a half dozen similar stories about Best Buy customer service, and at least a half dozen examples of how they have either gone out of their way to lose a sale, or they have not delivered on promises made during the time of sale... but rather than start adding chapter numbers to this post I'll just summarize by saying there are many good reasons why I don't buy things at Best Buy and why I do my best to convince others to avoid them as well.

The reality is I don't know many people in my circle of friends who actually buy things at Best Buy.  Those that do shop there are generally not the type of people who are well informed about technology, or they are merely going there to buy gift cards for kids or grandkids.  I realize my experiences are not reflective of the community as a whole, but I can't help but feel that Best Buy exists in spite of themselves.

I never hear positive news about Best Buy.  I never hear people brag about how they love the store.  I don't hear about how someone got an amazing deal or how they were treated so well.  I also don't read good news about Best Buy, their stock price, their finances, or their prospects.  This all has convinced me that if Best Buy continues doing the same things as they have been doing - they will continue to lose customers and they will continue circling the drain as they follow in the footsteps of other electronics retailers like Ultimate Electronics or Circuit City.

The funny thing is - I'm not the only person saying these types of things about Best Buy.  I recently read an article on the Forbes website written by Larry Downes that makes many of the same points as I have made here.  Downes has his own real-world examples of why Best Buy is a failure, but he also cites specific data about their financial condition, their declining revenue, and some of their recent missteps. 

Mr. Downes actually suggests that Best Buy is actually going out of business - even if they don't know it yet.  I felt it was a great read, and surely worth a few minutes of your time if you are at all interested in the subject matter.


  1. Although you do make clear and precise points, Best Buy is a profit company. You cannot expect amazingly low prices on everything. did you know Best Buy laptops are priced at cost? any laptop under $600 they do not make a dollar on them. With a market where you are making no money on hardware, sometimes you have to raise prices on accessories to compensate. I understand the HDMI situation, but with the more expensive cable, you pay for quality. its not the same cable marked up in price, you pay for premium parts. IE silver, gold, cabling including ethernet, or you can save the money and buy a cheap copper HDMI cable for a fraction of the price, but you lose quality. and on top of that, the more expensive cables have lifetime replacements on the cable. i went though 6 of the $10 HDMI cables from walmart. i would have rather purchased an $80 cable and not have had the trouble i did with walmart. As far as the cashiers offering a protection plan, i don't know what store you visit, but the one closest to me offers one time, you say no, and the answer is okay well you have 14 days to add it if you would like. How is that a 20 minute conversation? doesn't seem too painful to me. a "security guard" at the front is just to prevent products from being stolen. Not everyone is a good citizen as you make yourself out to be. How would you like it to run a store and have $7000 stolen weekly?
    As far as the geek squad goes, yes their prices may be high, but no one holds a gun to a customers head and tells them they have to purchase it. if a customer doesn't have a tech savvy family member and doesn't know how to install antivirus or set a computer up, maybe that extra $40-$100 is worth it to them if it means their computer is setup and ready to go for them.
    There is always two sides to a story, but getting on and posting a story about an Electronic company bashing them isn't too mature. everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not everyone can be an engineer like you. and sometimes the premium cost is worth talking to actual person instead of a computer monitor.

  2. I realize Best Buy exists to make a profit, and I don't fault them for that. What I take issue with is HOW they obtain those profits. I would much prefer it if their prices were reasonable without the need to punish people with accessory sales and without the need to prey upon the technologically ignorant.

    Now as far as paying for quality in terms of cables - much of that is a myth. Monster Cable has spent tens of millions of dollars to convince people that a quality cable makes a significant difference, but independent testing has proven the only thing they are efficient at is removing piles of cash from people's wallets. In fact, regular lamp cord (the kind you can buy in bulk at Home Depot) has tested as well as Monster Cable speaker wire.

    In terms of HDMI cables - is is a digital signal! There is no loss of quality due to analog interference and the plating on the connectors themselves is done to prevent oxidation. The wires in the cable are still copper whether the cable was purchased at Walmart, Best Buy, or anything in between.

    I'm going to go ahead and raise the BS flag on someone claiming they went through six cables from Walmart - because in a typical six foot cable the resistance of the wire is insufficient to create digital signal loss. The chances of getting a "bad" cable are minuscule, the chances of getting six in a row is nonexistent (not to mention why someone would continue to go back to Walmart four, five and six times).

    There is no reason why a cable at Best Buy should be $50 when I can buy a similar quality cable from Monoprice for $3.50. I could see Best Buy charging $12 or $15... but $50 or $60 is just an example of them taking advantage of people.

    Listen - based upon your comments claiming you know what Best Buy profit margins on laptops are (which I wouldn't agree with in the first place considering I can buy similar laptops from Amazon and Newegg for even less), what the policy regarding protection plans is, how much product walks out the door each week etc it is obvious you must be either a Best Buy employee, or have some connection for you to get so upset with someone who is critical of their practices.

    Either way there is a reason Best Buy stock is down something like 40% in a year and why their margins are getting smaller and smaller. Their order fulfillment issues over the holidays are just one more example in a long time of failures at Best Buy, and if they continue to do the same things it is only a matter of time before they cease to exist.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but I'm not going to apologize for saying what I believe in terms of Best Buy's sales practices or business model. The reality is I'm not the only one... I know very, very few people who enjoy shopping at Best Buy. In fact I often hear people go there only because they need something and can't afford to wait for it. In that respect, Best Buy is a lot like Radio Shack, but people are getting smarter and are discovered it just isn't worth paying 10 times as much for a product when they can order it online and have it delivered to their door without some high pressure salesperson trying to push them into a warranty, rewards program, DirecTV contract, or a subscription to Entertainment Weekly.

  3. I bought an apple computer at Best Buy in 2008 for $2,000.00. I was unhappy with expenses associated with setting up and troubleshooting. I did not return to make another purchase until 2013, with much reserve. I have had a better experience this time around. Today, I could not register for my Best Buy rewards online which cannot be done at store. It would not accept my password. I made several recent purchases. An associate and I checked online to ensure that that my Blue Ray DVD player had an HDMI cable. When I asked them to open it at store, they refused. I bring it home and there is no HDMI. Scam--America make a profit through scamming customers.

    1. Your experience likely isn't unique - although I'm surprised they didn't try to sell you one of their $30+ HDMI cables even if they thought there was one in the box. Hopefully you went elsewhere to buy the cable you required, but in the future check out or Amazon for cables and accessories. You can save a LOT of money instead of tossing it away at Best Buy.