Best Buy shifts focus from expertise to assortment

The retailer broadens its back-to-school strategy beyond "blue shirt" staff and class-ready tech to reach a bigger target.


The back-to-school season is a vital one for many retailers; and Best Buy is reaching out to a broader back-to-school crowd, showcasing musical instruments, small appliances and fitness watches in addition to its core laptop lineup, and doing it minus its blueshirts.

The way the brand has always approached back to school, says Mary Ann McKenzie, manager of brand marketing at Best Buy Canada, is by giving people the option of where, how and when they want to shop. For this year’s campaign, and based on the way people want to shop after nearly six months of the pandemic, that means shopping online, and the the spot emphasizes that shoppers can get their back to school tech, “quickly, safely and confidently” through Best Buy’s website.

The creative for this year’s back-to-school campaign– shot completely remotely – deviates from its norm of showing the guidance offered by blue shirt staff in-store, because the brand could not use its stores for location shoots (and while Best Buy is offering advice in its reopened stores, most shoppers are less inclined to spend more time in a closed environment than they have to).

It also goes beyond showing children in backpacks and college-aged teens heading to campus, with the retailer approaching it in a way that is more about people “getting back” to things that matter to them. That could mean getting back to class, but also work or continuing to learn about new hobbies like cooking, music and fitness, a message that is reinforced with the tagline “back to school is for everyone.”

McKenzie says the target remains the same tech enthusiasts, but is looking to reach them with a broader assortment than might be typically shown this time of year.

“Broadening the segment is an insight we have explored for years,” McKenzie says, who adds that products like appliances and instruments sold well during the pandemic and that it was important to showcase these and go beyond traditional back to school items like tablets and laptops.

With the option of “a blue shirt talking to a customer to establish a brand link” not being available, McKenzie says, Best Buy wanted to make sure it was showing the ecomm side and still link it to the Best Buy brand, as ecomm had a big uptick during COVID. In its recent Q2 earnings announcement, Best Buy reported its online sales nearly tripled, rising 255% from May 3 to July 18, primarily serving demand for computers, appliances and tablets.

Still, McKenzie insists blue shirts will be important to Best Buy going forward, as they are a “personification of the brand,” and that in-store will remain important too, as people like to talk face-to-face.

McKenzie says that at Best Buy Canada, “back to school” season starts in early August and carries into September and beyond, which applies this year as well. When COVID came along, she says the brand had no idea about timelines for returning to school, but was able to plan for this kind of approach because it believes that tech can enhance lives and create connections, something that proved itself to be true this year during isolation.

Different provinces and school boards have slightly different plans for heading back to school, but broadly speaking, most primary and secondary schools are expecting students to return with new social distancing measures and masks requirements, though parents may be able to opt their children out and go virtual. Most colleges and universities have moved fall semester fully online, and there is also the possibility that outbreaks or a second wave could results in other schools closing and moving back to a virtual format.

Research suggests that technology is among the categories that parents are de-prioritizing when it comes to their back-to-school shopping this year. They are also planning to do more of their shopping online and, when they do make in-store trips, will be looking to do quick, “in and out” visits at more value-focused retailers.

Best Buy’s campaign, which was created by Union, launched July 30 and includes TV, pre-roll and social assets. Media planning and purchasing handled by Media Experts and Best Buy Canada’s internal digital team.