Minneapois Tracy Schwardt dislikes almost everything about Best Buy stores, from the bass-heavy thump-thump-thump that comes from the car audio department to the cluttered aisles and crowded checkout lanes.
But Schwardt, a customer service manager at a printing company, had a very different experience on a recent visit to a Best Buy in Eden Prairie, Minn. To her surprise, two shopping assistants jumped to her aid, helping to locate a CD with the song "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives - a jingle that her daughter, Emma, needs to practice for a school Christmas show.
"That was really, really nice," the Jordan, Minn., resident said. "I didn't feel like I was in a Best Buy store. It felt like Dayton's. I felt coddled."
Schwardt, 40, is an unwitting participant in a bold experiment at Best Buy, in which the world's largest consumer electronics retailer is remaking select stores to appeal to women. In about 60 stores, Best Buy has toned down the loud music, widened the aisles, added play areas for kids and trained customer service people on how to better communicate with women. The changes represent an admission by Best Buy that, 40 years after opening its first store, the retail chain still hasn't figured out how to connect with female shoppers.
"We know we haven't figured out women and shopping, but we're committed to figuring it out," said Erin MacMillan, a Best Buy spokeswoman.
At the Eden Prairie Best Buy, for instance, there are eight full-time personal shopping assistants who are trained to guide women shoppers through the aisles, and even make house calls for loyal customers who aren't sure how to set up a TV or stereo system. The shopping assistants' area is equipped with special massage chairs, recipe books and puzzles for kids. A busy mother can set the massage chair to "Full Shiatsu" and recline while a shopping assistant fetches her merchandise.
And instead of asking a woman what brand or size of TV set she's looking for, staff members ask how the TV will be used and how it will fit in the home.
Best Buy is also experimenting with "women's shopping nights," in which experts are brought in to share ideas on how to shop for consumer electronics.
On Wednesday evening, for instance, representatives from the women's magazine Real Simple were on hand at 10 Best Buys, giving tips on how to budget for holiday spending and maximize time while shopping.