Don’t worry: This is not going to turn into another pro-Amazon rant. Rather, it’s to highlight a company that has bested Amazon in one discipline that accounts for all the good that Amazon has brought to writers and readers (through totally selfish motives, mind) – and in an area not directly about books and publishing. The company is Best Buy.

best buyThe topic came to light in a New York Times article with a rabble-rousing headline: “Underdog Against Amazon, Best Buy Charges Ahead” by James B. Stewart. But rather than focusing on some new challenge to the Kindle, Stewart’s article was focused entirely on consumer retail electronics, and on Best Buy’s stock performance.

Stewart quotes analyst David Strasser at Janney Montgomery Scott, where he is Managing Director for Hardline Retailers, on Best Buy: “Everyone thought Amazon was going to put them out of business.” Instead, as Stewart notes, “Best Buy stock has gained nearly 240 percent so far this year, putting it among the top three performing stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index,” inspiring envy from the likes of Barnes & Noble, and probably Amazon itself.

Most of this came courtesy of Best Buy’s new CEO and turnaround champion Hubert Joly – an example of what the French can do when not held back by the dead hand of statism. And Joly did it by focusing on price competitiveness and customer service above all: Make sure that you can get your customer what they want, faster and more easily than anyone else, and do everything you can to fulfill that commitment, including supporting them with service and setting up mechanisms to track and work to what they want. Give them the power and work to them.

That’s how Best Buy did it. Anyone who wants to set up a successful Amazon competitor, in books or any other market area, could do worse than learn from the example. Many traditional publishers, meanwhile, appear to prefer a framework where they are the arbiters of what their customers receive, and don’t need to worry overly about either price-competitiveness or customer preference. No wonder they’re where they are.


  1. Until last month, my day job was working in a call center providing tech support for Best Buy store-brand products: Insignia, Dynex, Rocketfish. And I can tell you for sure that Best Buy has some of the best phone customer service out there for its store-brand products, because I was right there helping to provide it. Their phone support lines are open 17 hours a day, 365 days a year, including all the major holidays, and you can always talk to a live person, usually within thirty seconds or so of dialing in (though that may not always be the case during the holiday season).

    Sure glad I’m not still doing it this time of year, though. 🙂

  2. Best Buy has an advantage that’s sometimes treated as a disadvantage in today’s online world. Their brick-and-mortar stores mean we have a place to go and real people to talk face-to-face with when there’s a problem.

    On the other hand, dealing with Amazon via faceless phone calls can feel like pushing on the end of one noodle in a bowl of spaghetti. This vast, amorphous abstraction seems to have no physical reality. I suspect those who’ve bought from Amazon have never met an Amazon employee in their entire lives.

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