I spent today at Lakeside, Thurrock, taking a behind-the-scenes look at the first Best Buy store in the UK, opening this Friday in time for the Bank Holiday weekend.
The 50,000 sq ft Thurrock store in Essex will be followed by three more in the West Midlands, Southampton and Liverpool – opening this summer – then a fourth in Croydon, due to be ready by the autumn, and finally one in Bristol in spring 2011.
So why all the fuss? Well, Best Buy is hugely successful in America, where it has 1000 stores, and hopes it can repeat its winning formula here in the UK.
The consumer electronics retailer will stock a wide range of products, from flatscreen TVs, Blu-ray players and home cinema systems to laptops, cameras, mobile phones and even electric cars and bicycles!
Choose from a wide range of TVs
But if you think this is just another 'pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap' out-of-town megastore, think again. Learning from its experience in the US, a huge amount of thought has gone into the layout and design of the flagship outlet.
The range of brands on offer includes top names such as Apple, Arcam, Bose, B&W, Denon, Harman Kardon, KEF, Loewe, Marantz, Onkyo, Q Acoustics, Sonos, Sony, Samsung, Pioneer, Panasonic and Yamaha.
Check out the brand names on the wall
Hi-fi and home cinema enthusiasts will feel right at home, and within the store there are dedicated demo rooms for hi-fi, home cinema, 3D TV and games, decked out with all the latest kit.
More after the break
Somewhere to relax and put your feet up
In the hi-fi room, for example, all the kit on display can be plugged in and auditioned, and customers can ask to listen to whatever items may interest them. While in the home cinema room there's a full HD projection system, a Philips super-widescreen 21:9 TV and fully integrated surround sound set-up.
Inside the hi-fi demo room
What's more, Best Buy has teamed up with respected custom installation company SMC to provide a bespoke home installation service.
Once you've discussed your preliminary requirements in-store, one of Best Buy's so-called 'Geek Squad' will, for a fee of £100, visit your home and help you spec up exactly the right system for your room and requirements.
If you go ahead with the install, the £100 fee will be re-funded.
Options will range from affordable set-ups – including a high-def TV, Blu-ray player and receiver, speakers and installation – for around £2000, to the "ultimate in top tech" for around £20,000.
And SMC will even help with customised lighting, remote calibration and wireless solutions. All the custom installers used by Best Buy are CEDIA trained too.
Best Buy's Blueshirts are on hand to help
Of course, not everyone will need a full home install. To that end, Best Buy's army of 'Blueshirts' are on hand to offer advice. They all undergo nine weeks' training at the Blueshirt Training Academy, and none of them are paid commission so they're not trying to sell you any one particular item just to boost their pay packet.
Book an appointment with the Geek Squad for technical help
All purchases are backed up by the Geek Squad 24-hour technology support service, available over the phone or online, and you can even book an in-store consultation (think of Apple's Genius Bar) if you'd like to talk to someone face-to-face.
In addition to a wide range of hardware, Best Buy will also sell more than 3500 Blu-ray and DVD titles, as well as 1500 CDs and a big selection of games. Gamers are catered for with the 'Ultimate Game Experience' room kitted out with a high-definition TV system.
Big selection of Blu-rays and DVDs
If it's something more portable you're after, then there are iPods/MP3 players, headphones, iPod docks and numerous accessories to choose from, as you can see below.
Headphones, iPods and plenty more accessories
And in the dedicated 'Green Tech' area you can check out the latest electric cars (including an £86,950 Tesla Roadster!), and a range of electric bikes, scooters and motorbikes. Going green has never been so much fun.