Hasn't Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) learned anything from fellow bricks-and-mortar superstar-turned-disaster Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) ? Not unlike the struggling bookstore chain, Best Buy now plans to try its luck in the tablet space. That's right. The world's largest consumer electronics retailer is said to be releasing an Android-based tablet as soon as Nov. 11. I have just one question, Best Buy: Who's going to buy this tablet?
The "Hail Mary" Flex
With its rumored price point between $239 and $259, the device will be more expensive than Amazon's (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Kindle Fire yet more affordable than Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) standard iPad. Though let's not forget that Apple is due to release its cheaper iPad Mini at an event scheduled for the end of the month .
Now that's just bad timing. Or perhaps that will be Best Buy's excuse when its new device fails to make a splash in the already crowded pool of tablets. If Apple offers its new iPad Mini in the vicinity of $259, Best Buy's Insignia Flex will be dead on arrival. Not to mention, both Amazon and Apple have something Best Buy does not: brand loyalty. In fact, the only thing Best Buy is known for these days are CEO scandals, store closings, and layoffs.
Here's what we know. The Insignia Flex, as it's being called, runs on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android software and sports a dual-core 1GHz processor, with a 9.7-inch screen, video camera, and 10-hour battery life, according to reports from Reuters. Not good enough.
If this is Best Buy's way of reinvigorating its business model, think again.
Good-bye, Best Buy
This decision positions Best Buy in another congested market fighting for its life. The consumer electronics chain is up against tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , and Google -- all of which have much larger ad budgets for promoting their respective devices ahead of the holidays.
On top of this, both the iPad and the Kindle represent trusted brands. When people buy an iPad, they know exactly what they're getting. Conversely, Best Buy's name has been dragged through the mud lately. It will take time and money to successfully reposition its in-house Insignia brand to compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon.
The unfortunate truth is that Best Buy no longer knows what Best Buy is. You can't expect to gain traction in the tablet market without even the slightest mention of digital content. Yet that's exactly what Best Buy hopes to do. Instead, the big box should have taken a clue from from Barnes & Noble, whose Nook products didn't stand a chance against the rich media ecosystems that accompanied rival devices.
A lack of application support is also what killed Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM ) aggressively priced Blackberry Playbook. Perhaps it's telling that, like Best Buy, both Barnes & Noble and Research In Motion entered the tablet space during their darkest hours.
How to play and win
Apple and Amazon's tablets are a hit because they offer platforms with strong ecosystems of apps, developers, and content providers. Not only does Best Buy not have any of these things, but also the company's entrance into the tablet market does nothing to solve the problems it's facing in its core business.
One thorn in Best Buy's tush is the notion of "showrooming," which refers to the growing number of customers who use its stores to comparison-shop. Today, only about 40% of Best Buy shoppers actually leave its stores having made a purchase, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.
This is an issue that Best Buy should have addressed months ago. Instead, it sat idly by while other big box retailers including Target (NYSE: TGT ) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) have laid out progressive strategies to combat such behavior. It wasn't until recently that Best Buy actually confronted the issue head-on. The company last week announced a new strategy to match prices offered by online competitors like Amazon.
While this may seem like a promising solution, it's more likely to frustrate and confuse customers. That's because only certain products and specific online vendors qualify for these price-match offers. Moreover, as Gene Munster from Piper Jaffray pointed out, this means customers will often have to show identical SKUs, which could prove to be more of a hassle than anything else.
The end of an era
Best Buy's push into tablets comes off as a desperate attempt to grab hold of anything it can -- in this case, a booming mobile market. If this seems harsh, that's because it's meant to be. Best Buy is getting into the hardware business for the wrong reasons. It doesn't need a copycat product...What it needs is a fresh game plan.
Investors would be wise to stay away from this stock and instead focus on companies that continue to innovate. Think Apple.
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