Best Buy Deploys Blue Shirts to Plug in Energy Efficiency

There's no denying that the retail business is a tough nut to crack, especially in a down economy.

Just ask Best Buy. The company has seen its own highs and lows, with more than a little competitive elbow-throwing with the likes of Amazon and Walmart. Best Buy hopes to see its fortunes rise by promoting what some might consider to be one of the least sexy recent trends to hit the electronics market: energy efficiency.

Can energy efficiency help Best Buy turn the proverbial corner? Neil McPhail thinks so.

In a keynote interview today at the State of Green Business Forum in Minneapolis, McPhail, senior vice president of Best Buy's New Business Customer Solutions Group, explained how the company is betting big on green products that help its customers save money. Best Buy also believes that it is uniquely positioned to deliver a sort of end-to-end experience that begins with education in its stores and finishes with implementation in consumers' homes, courtesy of the Geek Squad.

"We've said before that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our customers as they navigate the new technology space," McPhail said. "As you think about energy efficiency and the broader sustainability options coming down the pike, customers are asking us to play that role on behalf of them and help them navigate them through that complexity."

The company recently debuted energy efficiency departments at three stores in San Carlos, Calif., Houston and Chicago that allow consumers "come in, touch it, feel it and experience it, and then we can ensure that the product and experience we create in the store environment works in the home," McPhail said.

Those products may include home energy management gadgets, such as thermostatic control devices, or consumers can learn about utility incentives offered in their regions and take home energy surveys. With Geek Squad agents at their disposal, which McPhail called "the largest in-home service provider in the technology space," customers can also receive energy audits of their homes.

"One of the things we think we have with that omni-channel space is our footprint in our stores that is really dedicated to education, and that experience and learning gives us a competitive advantage," McPhail said. "So when there are new technologies coming out that are in areas of interest for consumers, we want to be the place where they come and spend time learning. It's an opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves and really leverage the core strengths that we have."

Best Buy's customers experience, however, has recently come under fire. McPhail didn't directly comment on recent controversies but did say that it is its customers who dictate where Best Buy's new technologies are headed. In response, the company tries to stay ahead of trends by communicating with early stage venture partners, universities and subject matter experts to help the company understand the technology spectrum. But one of the most fertile sources of education and inspiration comes from within, its so-called "Blue Shirt Nation."

"Our very first store experiments in Chicago around creating sustainable solutions for our customers were enacted by three part-time Blue Shirts who said, 'We should be educating about light bulb choices, we should have green packaging around our products, recycled paper products.' These ideas didn't come from some big strategy session inside this building," McPhail said, gesturing to the Best Buy conference center, where the event was held. "They came from our Blue Shirts saying this is a real need for my customer."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user roblawton.