Exclusive: Best Buy Employees Wanted to Partner With Amazon

Rocco Pendola - The Street  DEC 18, 2012 2:35 PM

Best Buy allegedly shot down employees who suggested forging a friendly relationship with Amazon.

 


Monday, I vowed to keep up the fight: Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) must act in the best interest of its shareholders.

Enough lamenting the hiring of Hubert Joly.

Best Buy's Board of Directors will not take my advice and fire him, but the company should hear me out and consider a partnership with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Interestingly, according to a former senior director at Best Buy, Chad Bell, this isn't the first time the idea has come up. (I knew that, by the way!)

I shared the above-referenced article to my LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) account where Bell made the comment below.

For the record, I contacted Bell via email to make sure he was all right with me printing his comment. I was just being thorough because, after all, he made the comment very publicly on one of my social media profiles.

I have talked to Bell in the past when he worked at Best Buy about interesting electric vehicle-related initiatives that, as far as I know, also went nowhere.

A few other interesting things here.

First, the obvious. Bell publicly noting that his team brought the idea of an Amazon partnership to management who not only reacted with a blank stare, but, allegedly, laid down an "edict" that barred "partnering with Amazon no exceptions." Bell's words, not mine.

Second, Jennie Weber, who "liked" that LinkedIn post, also used to work for Best Buy. Her LinkedIn profile states that she was a Geek Squad Marketing Manager for nearly three years, a Senior Marketing Manager for two, and a Marketing Director for one. Weber left the company earlier this year.

I did not get a hold of Weber so I can only assume a "like" means she thinks an Amazon partnership isn't a bad idea.

Third, I have talked, over the months, to several current and past Best Buy employees who feel the same way.

It doesn't take a sleuth to figure out that many people who used to be or are currently inside the building do not like the way things are going. They see the potential to innovate. They see pieces in place to trigger meaningful progress, but they feel constrained by a board, and now a CEO, that doesn't understand the level of change necessary to incite drastic transformation.

Worse yet, it's probably more than a comprehension problem. This board and CEO simply do not have the capacity -- and I am talking from a big picture, how they view the world perspective -- to act big and bold enough.

I would guess the people who, according to Bell, put down the no partnership with Amazon hammer did so for at least one of two reasons: They can't swallow their pride after a good old-fashioned butt whipping, or they think Amazon would laugh at them for even uttering the notion of partnership.

That's where a) the mindset at Best Buy needs to change, and b) the company needs to send the right people into the room with Amazon. I discuss this crucial ingredient in the article I cite in the first paragraph of this piece.

Despite how bruised and battered it is -- at the hands of Amazon -- Jeff Bezos could use Best Buy.

The company has a massive retail footprint that Amazon could leverage. The possibilities are endless, but chew on just a few:

Customer service: Amazon offers tech support, customer service, and/or warranties with many of the products it sells, particularly electronics. It would be an incredible value add for Amazon to be able to direct customers to their nearest Best Buy and the Geek Squad for these extras.

Something like this scratches everybody's itch. If Best Buy has leverage on Amazon anywhere -- and it doesn't have much -- it's that it has the ability to work with customers in the flesh and guide them. That's a crucial asset Amazon simply cannot deliver.

Amazon Locker, in-store pickup, and same-day shipping: Depending on where you live, Amazon frequently offers the option to pick up your goods from an Amazon Locker. You order, select a location and, by the time Amazon indicates, go pick up your product at the selected location.

Best Buys could become Amazon Lockers, expanding the network to most large cities and many nooks and crannies overnight. If a customer picks this option, she receives a $XX gift card to Best Buy or something of the sort. Make it a win-win.

Amazon could also offer an option at checkout that provides same-day home delivery and a Geek Squad member to set up a product and educate the buyer on it in their home.

Of course, the two companies would split fee-based revenue on these transactions. To sweeten the pot for Amazon, Best Buy might even have to work some sort of deal where, in exchange for an equity investment from the company, it shares a portion of its overall revenue with Amazon.

Sounds crazy, but it's nothing compared to the fleecing Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) gives wireless carriers who subsidize iPhones or the beating big content programmers put on cable and satellite operators.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Amazon is taking revenue from Best Buy no matter what. If Best Buy can find a way to make a partnership attractive, the revenue doesn't merely evaporate into Bezos' pockets and Best Buy can become relevant again.

Brick and mortar: Earlier this month, Bezos told Charlie Rose he would not rule out erecting physical Amazon locations. It would have to make sense and be unique. Any partnership with Best Buy could include full rights to a handful of its retail locations where Amazon could open up flagship stores.

This is all back of the envelope brainstorming, but you get the point.

There are people jettisoned from Best Buy who wanted to have this type of conversation. I am certain that folks with the same or similar sentiment still exist at the company.

Why Best Buy would stifle such creativity is beyond me. I'm not sure who is responsible -- the previous management regime, the current CEO, the board, or another bloc -- but somebody needs to get to the bottom of this and demand change, not lip service.