Best Buy's New Concept

Best Buy set out to create a store design that’s more appealing to women – and ended up with one that’s better for everybody.
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Posted October 29, 2008
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If you generally enjoy shopping at consumer electronics stores, you’re probably a guy. Their prime customers have always been men, and the stores are designed for them. But Best Buy research found that the female audience influences 89 percent of all technology purchases. “I can have Dad’s enthusiasm all I want,” the sales associates reported, “but if I get Mom to say yes, I’ve got the sale.”

So, with a company initiative called the Women’s Leadership Forum led by senior vp Julie Gilbert, Best Buy asked its female customers and employees what they didn’t like and what they wanted. And the information poured in. That led to the “New Blue” concept and a complete redesign of three stores in the Minneapolis area, one in Denver and plenty more to follow.

What Women Want

From a decor standpoint, women asked for carpeting. They wanted the colors of the store to be more like what’s typically in their homes – warm tones such as browns and taupes. And they emphasized nicer bathrooms. “Women judge the store and its brand based on how clean the bathrooms are,” explains Gilbert. “They’re often bringing their kids in there, and it answers the question: ‘Am I respected here?’ ” In response, they got 250-square-foot bathrooms with pedestal sinks, glass-tiled walls, wood-grain stalls, globe lighting above extra-large mirrors, pendant lighting for make-up, and piped-in soft music and scents.

The bright, blasting lighting that’s typical in larger retail spaces also proved unpopular. So Best Buy reduced the amount of metal halide light overhead, added some lower-wattage, home-like lighting levels and redirected some of the halide lamps onto a track system illuminating the visual graphics (which are both fewer and bigger than before and consist mostly of lifestyle images). That brought more color into the environment. And because women also found the store too noisy, the home theater and sound system product areas were placed at the back of the store, with musical instruments in a soundproof room.

Adds James Damian, senior vp of Best Buy’s design group, “We’ve heard from our female customers time and again that they don’t come to the store to read collateral material. They’re doing that online. So putting all that manufacturer’s info and techno-speak on signs throughout the store had little to no impact.”

Make it Easier

Unsurprisingly, women don’t like to get lost, either. They want easy navigation, so new directional signage was designed so that customers could assess the entire space in about 3 to 5 seconds. Aisles were made cleaner and less cluttered, and fixtures throughout the store were lowered to 60 inches with no merchandise on top of them so that female customers (average height: 5 feet 4 inches) have open lines of sight no matter where in the store they are.

Similarly, long aisles were found to be a problem. “Typically in big-box retailing you’ll see 36-foot runs of fixtures. Once you’ve made a commitment to go down that aisle, you’re stuck,” says Damian. “So we broke up the existing racking into modular components no longer than 20 feet. As a result, we doubled our endcaps, which female customers love. Endcaps are storytelling devices and women want the story.”

Give Me an Experience

Best Buy learned that although women don’t like to read about what they’re buying while in the store, they want to be educated through demonstration. So the floor plan includes several “experience zones,” which are models of rooms (family room, home office, etc.) complete with appropriately targeted merchandise.

“The design metaphor we used was to soften the warehouse environment to make it more like a loft,” explains Damian. “The experience zones are places where hardware, software, furnishings, subscription services, installation packages – the whole end-use model – are assembled in a lifestyle vignette that’s live and connected. We’re going to show you how it all works together.”

The newest and most advanced store, which opened in Roseville, Minn., earlier this year, has already shown above-average performance, with shoppers spending more time in the store and rising customer satisfaction scores. Still, Best Buy’s female-courting efforts are ongoing: Customers and employees continue to provide feedback based on their shopping experiences, and the new design will continue to evolve.

It turns out that men like the new store design, too, and they’re spending more time there, as well. Maybe they just didn’t know what they wanted until women told them.

Client: Best Buy – Experience Development Group (EDG), Richfield, Minn. -- James Damian, senior vp, EDG; Gary Timm, managing director, EDG; Toni Roeller, senior director, design and store experience; Adam Lofgren, senior environmental designer; Mark Vaida, senior manager, international architecture and construction

Design: Touchpoint Retail, Minneapolis, Minn. -- Josh Hanson, principal; Nat Shea, principal; Ken Piper, principal; Elisa Keck, project design director; Ryan Haro, director of retail; Jessica Meidinger, retail designer

Outside Design Consultants: ESI Design, New York (Concept Design Direction); George Group, Dallas (design process)

Audio/Visual: Best Buy, Richfield, Minn.

Fixtures: Environments Inc., Minnetonka, Minn.; L.A. Darling, Sun Prairie, Wis.; Phoenix Fixtures, Roberts, Wis.; TRIAD Mfg. Inc., St. Louis

Flooring: Lees Carpets, Greensboro, N.C.; Centiva, Florence, Ala.

Furniture: Room and Board, Minneapolis

Lighting: Lighting Affiliates, Minneapolis

Signage/Graphics: Best Buy, Experience Development Group, Richfield, Minn. 

Wallcoverings and Materials: Wolf Gordon, Chicago

Photography: Bob Perzel, Perzel Photography Group, Eagan, Minn.