If you can't beat them, join them. As painful as that adage might seem, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) is embracing it wholeheartedly.
The big-box store chain is a common victim of so-called "showrooming," where consumers stop by their local retail store to see what a particular gadget can do -- and then order it cheaper from some e-tailer. Best Buy is stuck with the costs of stocking, staffing, and maintaining the store while somebody else collects the revenue. You can't really blame the customers for chasing a better deal, but Best Buy's high overhead costs nearly always leave the company at the losing end of the deal.
It's comparison shopping, evolved. The rise of ubiquitous smartphone access to online shopping deals only accelerates this trend.
Well, Best Buy has had enough of it. Its stores will soon accept price-matching requests against a number of popular online stores -- not just the local retail locations many retailers price-match these days. Yes, the list includes low-cost king Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).
The idea isn't entirely crazy. If Best Buy is saddled with showrooming costs anyway, then why not at least deny Amazon and friends the pleasure of landing the deal? If nothing else, Best Buy will look generous for doing this, and then there's the convenience of not having to wait for a shipment. Just pick up your stuff and take it home right away. The combination just might be enough to make those margin-slashing deal seekers come back for other, more lucrative shopping trips.
It's a direct showdown between the "convenience is king" and "cash is king" world views. Since time is money, there's real value in these futuristic price-matching tactics. From there, it's up to Best Buy to keep its operating costs and supply chain management tight enough to make the whole thing work.
I'll note that Best Buy is not exactly the best candidate for such a potentially costly campaign. The company already reports negative earnings on a regular basis while fellow big-box champs Target (NYSE:TGT) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) sport positive profit margins. The all-around retailers have economies of scale that even Best Buy's nearly 1,500 stores can't match. In particular, I'd imagine that Wal-Mart's notorious efficiency would make the global retail king a natural platform for anti-showrooming price matches.
But Best Buy dives in first. The whole retail industry -- online and offline -- is watching with bated breath.