Back in the mid-1990s, Best Buy shoppers looking at PCs would inevitably walk past a shelf of neglected Performas. Apple eventually pulled its machines out of the chain, but a few years later, iMacs appeared in the aisles of the big box retailer in all of their technicolor glory. Apple’s insistence that Best Buy carry all five flavors of the multihued all-in-one led to a souring of relations, and the two parties went their separate ways until another round of flirtation in 2003 that led to a nearly full range of Macs being sold at Best Buy.
Rumors are that Apple has decided to throw its full weight behind the latest incarnation of its Best Buy partnership. The Cupertino, CA-based company will send Apple Solutions Consultants to Best Buy locations. The ASCs will, in turn, provide training to Best Buy employees so that they are up to speed on Apple’s product lineup and how Macs work. It will be an approach similar to that Apple has used with CompUSA, although that chain has small "Apple stores" within each location.
Shopping for Macs at Best Buy can be definitely a painful experience. When Apple and Best Buy were piloting Mac sales in 2003, I made a few suggestions on what the two parties could do to make things work. First and foremost was the need for adequate training of Best Buy employees. Apple provided Best Buy with training materials, but the partnership failed to take off, as the Mac shopping experience at Best Buy remained uneven at best.
Some might ask why Apple even bothers with the chain. The answer can be summed up in a single word: size. Best Buy is the largest electronics retailer in the US, and as such, has a geographical reach that Apple lacks. Apple Stores have been successful beyond expectations, but are primarily concentrated in larger metropolitan areas. If Apple hopes to increase its desktop and laptop market share like some expect, Best Buy’s extensive geographical reach will help.
From Best Buy’s perspective, a closer partnership with Apple makes sense. While Best Buy does not need the Mac, it does need the iPod. While it is inconceivable that Apple would pull the iPod from Best Buy altogether, giving the retailer priority on shipments in exchange for devoting shelf space to Apple’s computers is definitely within the realm of possibility.
The larger question is whether this marriage will end any differently than the previous ones. Shopping at Best Buy can be downright unpleasant, and if store employees aren’t knowledgable about Apple products and technology, trying to buy a Mac there could be downright nasty. On the flip side, if the training is adequate and the machines well-maintained, it could be a win-win situation for both parties.