Brad Anderson, chief executive officer of Best Buy Co., is embracing a heretical notion for a retailer. He wants to separate the “angels” among his 1.5 million daily customers from the “devils.”
Best Buy’s angels are customers who boost profits at the consumer-electronics giant by snapping up high-definition televisions, portable electronics, and newly released DVDs without waiting for markdowns or rebates.
The devils are its worst customers. They buy products, apply for rebates, return the purchases, then buy them back at returned-merchandise discounts. They load up on “loss leaders,” severely discounted merchandise designed to boost store traffic, then flip the goods at a profit on eBay. They slap down rock-bottom price quotes from Web sites and demand that Best Buy make good on its lowest-price pledge. “They can wreak enormous economic havoc,” says Mr. Anderson.
Best Buy estimates that as many as 100 million of its 500 million customer visits each year are undesirable. And the 54-year-old chief executive wants to be rid of these customers.
Mr. Anderson’s new approach upends what has long been standard practice for mass merchants. Most chains use their marketing budgets chiefly to maximize customer traffic, in the belief that more visitors will lift revenue and profit. Shunning customers — unprofitable or not — is rare and risky.
Mr. Anderson says the new tack is based on a business-school theory that advocates rating customers according to profitability, then dumping the up to 20% that are unprofitable. The financial-services industry has used a variation of that approach for years, lavishing attention on its best customers and penalizing its unprofitable customers with fees for using ATMs or tellers or for obtaining bank records.