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Best Buy to Offer In-Store Web Stations

As part of a nationwide multichannel marketing effort, consumer electronics specialty retailer Best Buy Co. this fall will introduce Web-enabled stations in its 350 stores.

Through the Web stations, Best Buy hopes to capture more business from consumers open to buying online outside the comfort of home or office — the two places where most Internet transactions take place.

“We're focused on building incremental sales for the enterprise,” said Barry Judge, vice president of marketing at BestBuy.com Inc. “We're not so focused on building incremental sales for just BestBuy.com, so a key challenge is to get this thing up and running as quickly as we can.”

Refurbished last month, BestBuy.com is a wholly owned subsidiary of Best Buy Co., Minneapolis. Best Buy's Web site, www.bestbuy.com, now includes features and tools such as product comparison, shopping assistance, multiple-angle product views and a Think About folder to set aside products for further perusal.

While the site is expected to play a key role in Best Buy stores, its presence on the Web stations is critical. Each store will contain up to 15 stations that will allow consumers to research product information or buy items out of stock in the stores for home delivery or in-store pickup, Judge said.

Judge would not elaborate on the nature of these Web devices. Once Best Buy has these interactive devices in place, it will join a select club of retailers testing similar online outposts in bricks-and-mortar stores, including apparel marketer The Gap, bookseller Borders and kitchen-products maker Williams-Sonoma.

According to market researcher Computer Economics Inc., Carlsbad, CA, there will be 298,000 interactive kiosks installed nationwide and 584,000 worldwide by year-end. Such kiosks could proliferate to 785,000 in the United States and 1.7 million worldwide by 2004.

BestBuy.com's product assortment mirrors that of its store and catalog counterparts and includes name brands in consumer electronics, personal computers, appliances and entertainment software.

Best Buy is confident its Web stations will appeal to its customer base. At least company research indicates that acceptance.

“They go to stores [but also are] very techno-savvy consumers,” Judge noted. “These consumers are online already. They're buying on the Web and are above-average income people that are very interested in technology and entertainment products.”

Though Best Buy took some time to go fully e-commerce, it claims to have spent the past nine months in preparation of seamless channel integration. This year, the retailer has signed a variety of deals — involving investment, content or technology — with Microsoft Corp., etown.com, Simplexity.com, Liquid Audio, Supertracks, Rollingstone.com and Everypath.

The goal is to allow consumers to use the channels without fear of cannibalization for the retailer.

The amount of marketing dollars is the biggest indication of Best Buy's commitment to the dot-com business. While most Internet-only retailers are lowering costs, BestBuy.com this year has a $50 million marketing budget.

Online advertising breaks this month across a range of Web sites, followed by a full-fledged BestBuy.com campaign that will roll out gradually in print media, inserts and Best Buy stores, and on television.

The national effort will stress the ease of shopping with BestBuy.com. Though the exact phraseology is being worked out, the theme most likely is “Shop anywhere you want, where you want, however you want.”

“You've to realize who we compete with,” said Judge. “We compete with Amazon, we compete with Circuit City, we compete with people that are not doing what we're now doing.”

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