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If you’re like most American shoppers, you probably did a significant amount of your shopping online this past year. But if you were in the market for electronics, you may have found yourself at your local Best Buy.
While Best Buy isn’t the rapidly expanding behemoth it once was, it's a company that has done well adapting to the modern retail world. It’s done so by heeding the lessons of other chain stores that have come and gone over the years and still offering something Amazon can't—the convenience of in-store pickup across the country.
I visited Best Buy’s headquarters in Minnesota a few years ago and I was struck by the company’s keen awareness of the cliff it was rapidly approaching. Lining a hallway near then-CEO Brian Dunn’s office were a series of mock hospital beds. The patients? Fallen retail competitors like Circuit City, with charts detailing the deadly conditions that killed them off.
Best Buy even went so far as to build its own mini “secret” store in the basement of its headquarters. It was mostly a proving ground for new signage and end caps—ensuring the little jerks at your local mall don’t break their necks when they (inevitably) swing from the ceiling-mounted displays. But it also was a place to experiment with new types of shelving, layouts, and ways technology could improve shopping at the store.
Your local Best Buy may not have anything quite so secretive, but here’s some inside knowledge to help you score a deal.
1. Price Match, Price Match, Price Match
This doesn’t qualify as a secret, obviously, but being knowledgeable about Best Buy’s policies—especially its price match policy—will always help you get a deal. Want that sweet new tablet on sale at Amazon.com without having to wait? You might be able to pick it up at Best Buy today for the same price.
Over the years Best Buy has gotten more liberal with what it will and won't price match. There is some fine print to be aware of, but generally speaking Best Buy will match the advertised prices of local competitors (including clubs that require memberships), as well as major online sites like Amazon.com, Dell.com, and others.
It doesn't cover coupons, free gift cards, or doorbusters, but you don't even have to go to the store to get a price match. If you call 1-888-BEST-BUY, you can often get a price match on an online order before it's delivered to your house.
2. Open Box is Your Friend
One of the best ways to get a discount on a product is to buy an open box. Most open box items at Best Buy are discounted from 10 to 20 percent off their MSRP and are in perfect condition—some have never even left the store.
You can find open box items on the shelf at your local store, but you can also look online at Best Buy’s outlet shop and buy open box items from there. The packaging won’t be perfect, but the items are backed by the normal 15-day return policy.
While open box prices are generally non-negotiable, if an item is also discontinued (such as with old floor displays), see what the manager can do for you. When I was still at Best Buy, old items didn’t just take up floor space, they counted as a negative against the store’s profit statements every month—a key metric that could impact whether the managers received bonuses. While that policy may have changed, managers will always want old items off the floor as soon as possible, especially if you’re buying other items to go with it.
3. Know When You’re Actually Shopping at Best Buy
Walk into your local Best Buy and you might notice little “shops” within the store, or dedicated areas where you’ll find employees and signage geared around a single company’s products (most often Samsung).
While it can be a little jarring to talk to a Samsung-trained employee in a Best Buy, the products bought here are still covered by all the same policies as everything else at Best Buy. That’s especially useful with mobile phones, since Best Buy can activate every phone for you there. I've also found it easier to return phones to Best Buy than to small third party "Verizon" stores.
Look online though, and it’s a different story. Like Amazon, Best Buy has taken to using BestBuy.com as a “marketplace” where third-party retailers can sell things directly to you. While this has perks (they’re Best Buy-approved retailers and your credit card info is still processed by Best Buy), this comes with one drawback: If you want to return the item, you have to return it to the marketplace seller. You can’t just walk into your local store.
There’s one big exception to this: Best Buy’s eBay store. Yep, Best Buy operates its own eBay storefront, just like your neighbor Carol. The prices are usually in line with BestBuy.com, but occasionally there will be exclusive sales.
Most items on the eBay store are eligible for in-store pickup within an hour or two, and you can also return these items to your local store. Just be aware of the policy differences: Best Buy gift cards don’t work on the eBay store and there’s no price matching—though, as always, it doesn’t hurt to ask when you pick the item up.