Best Buy CEO Corie Barry on the 5 retail trends impacting the business

NRF 2022: Lessons in staying ahead of the curve

On Monday afternoon at NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry talked about how her company has weathered the past two years, and how she and her team maintain their lead in consumer electronics, one of the most competitive — and most rapidly changing — categories in retail.

One major challenge, especially for a business heavily based on staff/customer interaction, has been the pandemic.

NRF 2022 event recap

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“From the beginning, one of our most important tenets was guarding the health of both our staff and the customers,” Barry said during a keynote session in the SAP Theatre. “We were constantly and empirically looking to science to ask, ‘What is the safest environment, given what we know today?’ and then providing the infrastructure for our teams as much as possible to meet those changing safety guidelines. The most important issue to us, then as now, is that we want the customer or employee to feel safe, based on their own life situation.”

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, who was speaking with Barry, noted that the most recent development in the pandemic is the rise of the omicron variant, which became apparent in the United States just as the holiday season was starting. He asked Barry how she sees it affecting her company’s customer/staff experience.

“There are five trends that really hit this particular corner of retail, at least as we see it,” she said. “The first is that safety matters. What constitutes safety will be defined by each customer. We’ll continue to need to prioritize a safe experience.”

The second is convenience — again, as defined by the customer, not by Best Buy: Barry said 40 percent of what the company sells is picked up by the customer from the store — even though most of it is eligible for free next-day delivery.

“Third is a juxtaposition of what I call digital comfort,” she said. “People are easy with technology now in ways I’ve never seen before, but the flip side of that is very high experiential expectations. They want magic. When you send a consultant into their home, they expect it to be an amazing experience.”

The fourth trend is that, at least for now, the employee is more in control. “They ask, what is my career path? What are my benefits? What does my development look like? So how,” she said, “do I offer this suite of things to my employees that will help them stay sticky to me as a company?”

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Fifth, data is the new currency. “We have lots of data about how we can keep the customer’s purchases up and running. How can we refine and improve the customer experience with all this rich data that will allow them to optimize — and also personalize — the way they work?”

Not too many years ago, Shay commented, it was thought that Best Buy’s category would soon be uncompetitive, submerged in a sea of heavily discounted online purchases. “You’ve not only survived,” he said, “but you’re the market leader. How have you done that?”

Again, said Barry, the key is in the customer relationship. “We help in two phases,” she said. “One is, ‘Did you know?’ Did you know that you can use technology to improve your life? The second phase of that is support. Now that technology has improved your life, how do you keep all these things working together?”

In other words, it’s a work in progress — and will continue to be. Asked how Best Buy plans to maintain its position, Barry says, “Versus trying to have the perfect and specific answer, the staff and I are focused on the agility it continues to require — based on situations that are changing almost more rapidly than we can predict.”

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