Related pages
Tablet Comparison Chart

A review of our recommended tablets

And the ones you can buy now in UK shops

Alex Fergusson Architects

Best Buy's Worst Ever Buy


This article is preserved as a reminder of how the recent history of the gadget market is littered with some pretty monumental howlers. Perhaps I am allowing myself almost the whole phrase "I told you so", because the words below were written about half way through Best Buy's brief, but eye-wateringly expensive UK joint venture. The mistakes they had made really were obvious a good while before they made the wise decision to pull the plug and close their UK stores.



Here in the leafy suburbs of southwest London we revel in a kind of glorious isolation.  The lozenge-shaped demographer's blob on this map shows an area where we can live out our lives, school our children, get the train in to work at the hedge fund, etc., etc. all in blissful ignorance of what is going on in Libya or Afghanistan, or even, to be honest, in Croydon. And it's Croydon where Best Buy have chosen to locate their new UK megastore - you can see from teh map that it's a little way outside the Lozenge

Map of southwest London showing Best BuyIn fact, I'm a bit of a poor relation in the Lozenge of unreasonable wealth. I have no soft-top Porsche or Aston Martin to park in the street like some Lozenge-dwellers do. I sometimes go on the bus. But I do share in the stress that all us Lozenges feel when having to travel to the outside world.

However, Best Buy have built one of their UK mega-stores just 11 miles, according to Google Maps, from my office. They've built it in... Croydon. (Oh dear.)

This is a bit of a coincidence, because I can walk from my office to my local (fabulous) Applestore in Kingston, admire it, and then walk back again in just 11 minutes - that's minutes, not miles. I can buy an iPad without venturing beyond the borders of the Lozenge.

But for most other slates, I would have to go to Croydon.

While I've been keeping a weather eye on the UK gadget market, Best Buy's move to combine with the UK's own Carphone Warehouse and open a chain of biggish outlets has been quite a major event. The fact that it is now rumoured that they have lost £55 million in a year in just six stores makes a research visit into a bit of a priority.

Below I'll outline the joys of the Croydon retail park, and you can check here on the tablets [that are available now in the surviving UK retail stores.]

My car is ostentatiously second hand. In the Lozenge, it's a bit of an embarrassment, but I have few qualms about driving it outside - even to Croydon. Google tells me that it will take thirty minutes to the retail park ... and this is an error. As it turns out there is considerable and very frustrating traffic and the journey takes just twice as long as Google's prediction. I could have saved myself 15 minutes - and helped save the planet - if I'd been prepared to mingle with the rest of humanity in a tram. But Lozenges don't do mingling very well.

I arrive in the Croydon retail park and it feels like a recessionary desert. If this were America, tumbleweed would be blowing across the vast Best Buy car park. It certainly isn't difficult to find a place.

Inside, there's literally an acre of selling space for about half a dozen customers. If we all chose to visit the toilets (rest rooms) at the same time, it still wouldn't be crowded.  But for those on the shopfloor, there's chance to practice for the London marathon, jogging along aisles of heat-generating TVs, PCs, electric bicycles, hoovers, toasters, HiFis and - dotted rather randomly around the store - tablets.

Us customers are outnumbered by staff who seem quite friendly, if a little vague. They chat to each other, trying to look purposeful, rather than pestering customers. When I ask about a gadget or two, and about an air conditioner for good measure, they're well-meaning, but not well informed. Wouldn't it be helpful, if some of these guys got a bit of product training, for a change?

Across the road is a PC World store. It's virtually identical, if a little better focussed. At least, they're not selling toasters. Again, the tablets are spread around, rather than being concentrated in one place. Again, also, the store is well-stocked with things that successful tablets would render obsolete: cameras, photo frames, Satnavs, netbooks, laptops, MP3 players, miniature TVs, gaming consoles, etc., etc..

These stores are understandably ambivalent about the whole idea of tablets, worried about how they might cannibalise so many of their markets.

The stores are dinosaurs. They are built around the concept of a buyer who fetched his car on a longish journey to collect his fat new TV - or PC - which was packed in a box, or boxes, that were so large they needed to be taken to the car on a trolley. People aren't looking to buy big stuff anymore. Lozenges don't want to pay big bucks for big PCs and it's the Lozenges that are still spending money. Samsung, looking to sell tablets to Lozenges, are worrying whether their new product is 8.8mm thick - or 8.9.  In this market, the importance of having a free car park right by the shop entrance is reduced.

There are stores around that do make sense - selling furniture or food. I visit one to buy beer. It's busy and successful. I ask if the woman on the checkout needs to check my ID to confirm I'm over 18. She laughs at me - happy, friendly and open. I think she suspects that I'm quite a bit over 18. It's somehow a more genuine happiness than the Lozenge-workforce seem able to achieve.

That the technology stores are here though, is a tragic failure of marketing. It's not only that they are failing to embrace progress. There is also a failure on the part of Google and of ARM, the chip maker. These companies have an interest in educating the market that tablets aren't all made by Apple. They should be helping retailers to introduce Android tablets to early adopting clients - like us Lozenges.

Beside these stores, Steve Jobs' marketing achievement seems even more impressive. Yes, the Apple product is limited in that there is only one company to supply you with iPhones, or pads, or pods, or whatever. But apart from that, the company has evolved a whole new selling model where the income from the online iTunes store subsidises a chain of beautifully positioned retail outlets.

In short, Best Buy copied the wrong competitor. They should have ignored PC World and copied Apple.

So, there it is: if you want to sell a tablet to a Lozenge, don't put it next to a toaster in Croydon...


blog comments powered by Disqus