Has any retail foray in recent history promised so much, but ultimately delivered so little as Best Buy’s into the UK?

Has any retail foray in recent history promised so much, but ultimately delivered so little as Best Buy’s into the UK?

It entered promising to shake up the sector, but exited with a whimper. Last week Carphone Warehouse said it had conditionally agreed to buy out the US retailer’s 50% share of their joint venture, thereby ending a rollercoaster five-year ride in the UK for the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer.

When a host of US brands are hopping over the Atlantic to appear on British high streets, there are some lessons to be learned. Is there actually a place in the UK market for them? Is the format, offer and brand relevant? Don’t underestimate the competition.

Remember when it was all so different? In 2010 the first UK Best Buy opened in Thurrock to much fanfare.

Best Buy promised to revolutionise the country’s electronics sector with unparalleled levels of customer service and a new type of store environment. ‘Product convergence’ was the catchphrase and the iPad, then just a week old, was still a thing of marvel rather than just another shiny black rectangle in the home.

Only the best were chosen to work as the pioneering ‘blue shirt’ employees and, to be fair, they gave off a real buzz around the brand and the store.

The store provided excitement too - a large area was devoted to ‘green’ products, while a customer service hub was located right at the heart.

But, even in that first store there were warning signs that perhaps some aspects had been misjudged - a significant area, for example, was given over to entertainment products, a category most other retailers were trying their hardest to scarper from.

Initially the plans were to open about 80 UK stores, which would act as a bridgehead for moves into mainland Europe. In the end, just 11 opened, and all were closed by January 2012.

In hindsight, Best Buy’s superstore adventure in the UK was spectacularly misjudged - the wrong format, in the wrong market at the wrong time. It wasn’t that they didn’t win the race, they never got off the starting blocks.

  • Rob Gregory, Global research director, Planet Retail