Is consumer electronics retailing about to get the shakeup it needs?

So, US retail giant Best Buy has acquired a 50 per cent stake in the retail arm of Carphone Warehouse, as we reported here last week. The Sunday papers are full of the story, and there's much speculation that the deal will lead to a massive shakeup of consumer electronics retailing in the UK, writes Andy Clough.

Will this be a good thing, leading to more choice and better service? Or will trade on the high street just become even more cut-throat, with retailers adopting a 'pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap' philosophy and customer service taking a back seat?

According to today's reports, Best Buy will use Carphone's market know-how to open stores selling a range of goods from flatscreen TVs to washing machines nationwide, and challenging the likes of Currys and Comet.

Best Buy even plans to go head-to-head with Currys Digital stores by developing a small 'pure electricals' (ie no white goods) format for the high street.

Competition is good, and the arrival of Best Buy should force the other electrical retail giants to up their game. Let's face it, we've all wandered into one of the big electrical stores on a Saturday afternoon and overheard one of the weekend staff talking rubbish.

On any number of occasions I've been so appalled by the nonsense being spouted to an innocent customer that I've been tempted to intervene and put them right. Not, I suspect, that I'd get any thanks for my help!

But if Best Buy can combine the generally excellent customer service of, say, John Lewis with a wide range of stock and more competitive prices, then they could be on to something.

Of course, selling sophisticated products like flatscreen TVs and Blu-ray players is rather different from flogging kettles and toasters. As anyone who regularly visits our Forums will know, choosing a new TV these days is a complex business.

Do I need Full HD? What does HD-ready mean? Will this set work with a Blu-ray player? Should I go for plasma or LCD? What's 24 fps? The questions are endless.

Best Buy believes it can do a better job than its competitors. Carphone Warehouse chief executive Charles Dunstone says: "I think the consumers of Europe are ready for someone to do a better job of retailing electrical products." I certainly wouldn't disagree with that.

And Best Buy's chief executive, Brad Anderson, adds: "We wouldn't be coming here unless we thought we could do something different."

Given that we're in the middle of a credit crunch, and consumers are tightening their belts, this is a brave time to be launching new stores. But given Best Buy's track record in the US, and global sales of $40bn, who's to say they won't succeed?

Technorati Tags: Best Buy, Blu-ray, Carphone Warehouse, Comet, Currys, Dixons, flatscreen TV, HDTV, LCD TV, plasma TV

Andy Clough

Andy is Global Brand Director of What Hi-Fi? and has been a technology journalist for 30 years. During that time he has covered everything from VHS and Betamax, MiniDisc and DCC to CDi, Laserdisc and 3D TV, and any number of other formats that have come and gone. He loves nothing better than a good old format war. Andy edited several hi-fi and home cinema magazines before relaunching in 2008 and helping turn it into the global success it is today. When not listening to music or watching TV, he spends far too much of his time reading about cars he can't afford to buy.