By Jay Fidell
Last week, Best Buy announced they would close 50 of their stores by 2013. It’s not clear if that includes Hawaii’s two Best Buy stores, but if Best Buy does close 50 stores that would leave 1,105 stores in the U.S. and 185 stores in China under the company's “Five Star” brand.
In the announcement, Best Buy said they were closing these stores to “lower costs,” and they projected their savings to be $250 million in 2013 and a total savings of $800 million by 2015.
But Best Buy plans to open the very same number of stores in China during the same period. So it’s got to be more complicated than lowering costs. Maybe they need the money to open the new stores in China. Maybe it’s that they think the China stores will be more profitable than the U.S. stores. Most likely, it’s all of the foregoing.
For Hawaii, it’s downright scary. First, we had and then lost Computer City, which had a store in Victoria Ward and another in Waikele, replaced happily with the larger CompUSA. These big box computer stores were invaluable to anyone who wanted to stay current on computers.
But then CompUSA went down in 2008 and KS, its landlord, had no interest in leasing that facility to another computer retailer. So it stood dormant for two years. Then KS made it into a used car sales lot, which it is today, not selling a single computer to any of us.
What a loss. The good news, of course, was Best Buy. It arose to replace its predecessors and despite an over-allocation of household appliances it has continued the tradition of providing Hawaii with retail computers. And it has done a great job in that, all to our mutual benefit.
That’s why this announcement is so troubling. If Best Buy closes the Hawaii stores, or goes the way of history like Computer City and CompUSA, what will we do then? We’re in the middle of the Pacific. Being relegated to mail order, only, will be a burden on all of us.
It will slow down our progress. Your router fails, well order one and wait three days or more and pay the shipping. What exactly do we do for those three days? We will feel the pain almost immediately. We’ll become backwater in the most highly leveraged tools of all, computers.
Mail order like Amazon is more efficient. While Best Buy pays the cost of shipping new goods, returns and outmoded goods back and forth, Amazon and other online competitors only ship one way. Although we don’t yet pay GET with Amazon, we do get to pay the cost of shipping.
I’d like to think that local investors will pick up the slack and open their own brand of Best Buy, but we know that’s not true. Name one big box that’s locally owned. Even the small computer store that popped up in Kaimuki after CompUSA closed, went out of business shortly thereafter.
So if and when Best Buy goes, we’ll be out of luck, it not permanently, then for a long while, while the rest of the world moves on without us into the computer miracles of the 21st Century. This will be a blow to our small businesses, and also our sense of computer awareness.
I can’t believe that the Best Buys in Hawaii are not making money. Our Best Buys are always crowded and people seem to be shopping with a certain relish. But that’s what they said about CompUSA before it closed. Hard to believe, but there you have it.
Certainly, I don’t wish any of this, and in fact I wish against it. But given this announcement perhaps we should start thinking about the awful possibility that our Best Buy stores could close, and the terrible troubles we will have in getting consumer computer equipment if they do.
A message to Best Buy: stay in business, stay in Hawaii, and don’t trade us off for an adventure in China. We’re here, we’re technologically dependent on you, we shop with you regularly, and best of all you have no significant brick and mortar competition here. So why give that up?
Best Buy said 14 of its new stores in China will be "mobile store-within-a-store concepts." The "store-within-a-store" is a small Best Buy store located within a larger Best Buy store. Best Buy also plans to open 100 "mobile small format stand-alone stores" in shopping centers in the U.S. in 2013. Hawaii doesn’t need those.
Hawaii needs the Best Buy stores it already has.