Ultimately, big-box stores are too big to fill with an appointment-only service.
Best Buy said on Tuesday it was ending its requirement next week to have an appointment to enter its stores, something it had implemented a few weeks earlier to ensure the safety of customers during the pandemic. Under that practice, a shopper had a renewable 30-minute appointment during which they were chaperoned by a Best Buy employee.
Now, the electronics retailer said in a new blog post, people can “safely and freely” roam the stores, but the company will limit the number of shoppers inside at any one time to 25% of capacity—typically 60 shoppers—depending on the individual store.
“We’re now confident we can provide a safe experience for shoppers who want to visit our stores to browse, see tech products firsthand, and get helpful advice from our Blue Shirts or Geek Squad Agents,” said Ray Sliva, president of retail, referring to Best Buy’s sales staff.
Best Buy tried to put a positive spin on appointment shopping, saying it would give shoppers coming in for high-ticket items that required expertise an employee’s undivided attention. But the tactic, introduced at a time Best Buy was offering only curbside pickup and direct e-commerce, was destined to be a short-term way to drum up more in-store business and limit lost sales of more involved items like appliances and home theaters.
As Fortune reported last week, retail analysts thought the move would cost Best Buy impulse buying and create impediments to shopping: If you were in the market for both a new camera and a home theater, would you have needed to make two appointments? Or if you’re the kind of shopper who feels super guilty if you don’t buy something after spending time with a sales associate, you might not bother at all.
At the same time, it was clear that it was better than having no in-store sales. Best Buy was among the most successful brick-and-mortar retailers at preserving a good chunk of its business while it voluntarily closed its stores, but given the size of its stores and margins, it needs a certain amount of volume from in-store shopping. (Best Buy was deemed essential at the start of the pandemic.) The company’s strong e-commerce will help it pick up the slack from lower in-store sales, much as has been the case for Target and Home Depot, which are also limiting store traffic.
Waiving the appointment requirement does not mean Best Buy’s cash registers will be ringing up big sales. But at least it brings the company a step closer to normal at a time when brick-and-mortar chains are trying to keep shoppers safe—catching a virus is not a good customer experience, after all—even though getting back to pre-pandemic business levels seems far off because of concerns about the economy and the pandemic. The spike in new infections reported Wednesday in Arizona and Texas are a reminder of how volatile a situation this is for any business.
Macy’s, for instance, said this week that business was recovering more quickly than normal at its 450 reopened stores so far. But the department store, which said it had an operating loss of nearly $1 billion in the first quarter, remains very far from normal business levels that could make operating its massive stores profitable again. Macy’s executives themselves suggested a full sales recovery remained far off.
“We do not see a return to normalized trends until well into 2021 and possibly not until 2022,” interim chief financial officer Felicia Williams said in an interview on Tuesday with Cowen analyst Oliver Chen.
More must-read retail coverage from Fortune:
- Stitch Fix’s new growth strategy: Letting non-clients shop directly, too
- Shopping by appointment is the next big thing for retailers, but it’s no panacea
- How Tractor Supply Co is using tech to deliver e-commerce to its rural customers and fuel a sales surge
- The soda market is popping with new contenders. Will they stay or fizzle out?
- Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
- WATCH: The ugly toll COVID-19 has taken on retail