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Not Quite the Best Buy

Back in 2000, I had only owned a DVD player for a little over a year, and the only anime title I owned was the old Record of Lodoss War OAV box set. As I was beginning to realize that dual-language discs were the standard for DVDs, I was slowly becoming more and more interested in adding some anime titles to my growing collection.

In the summer of 2000, Best Buy piqued that interest and brought it to a full-blown addiction. Looking back, I can say that Best Buy was an integral factor leading to my current love of all things anime. Perhaps that's why I've been so terribly disappointed in the company lately.

Before I really get the ball rolling, I have to state that I've always gone out of my way to patronize Best Buy. In fact, it was the first place I landed a retail job, and I've always felt a bit of a bond to the store. I have a Best Buy credit card, and I even have their point-based Rewards card. Even when I'm not looking to buy something, I shop there, and I usually end up giving them at least some of my money each time I visit.

Over the past year, however, I've found that I really don't want to shop there any more.

First of all, their selection of the items I seek out - music, movies, and games - has dwindled down significantly compared to the stock they carried in years past. St. Louis isn't a huge city, but we have about 10 Best Buy stores within 20 miles of the metro area, and you'd think that it would be possible to find just about anything at one of the stores, at least. However, the company's focus lately seems to be more on quantity rather than diversity. Sure, they have 50 copies of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, but if you try looking for any game older than a month that isn't a greatest hit, you'd better look somewhere else.

The same problem crops up with their movie and CD selection. Perhaps there was one copy of the Chobits soundtrack, but someone already bought it! Ah, but at least there's a truckload of the Rolling Stones Best Buy exclusive DVD set. Who knew they weren't dead?

Unfortunately, the problem isn't merely one of selection, either. Anime has finally been grouped together in most stores (rather than getting tossed in with Action, Children's, or Sci-Fi), but anime soundtracks are hidden along with every other soundtrack in the store, which makes it hard to seek out the barrage of new Geneon releases I know are arriving every month.

More important to me than anything else is the steady increase in prices I've noticed. The MSRP of anime DVDs has remained relatively constant over the years. Most single disc anime DVDs have a suggested retail price of $29.99. In May of 2000, I was overjoyed to receive a coupon from Best Buy granting me 20% off any DVD purchase, with no quantity limit. I was already aware of low prices online, but at the time, Best Buy's prices were already 33% off the MSRP in most cases. Bubblegum Crisis 2040, Cowboy Bebop, Slayers: The Motion Picture - these were all $19.99 to begin with at the store, and with an extra 20% off, I happily spent $200 on anime.

It was the first time I spent that much money on anime DVDs, and it certainly wasn't destined to be the last. The shows I bought that day made me fall in love with anime all over again, but money has always been pretty tight for me, and I tend to be rather talented at getting the best value for what I have. I waited for another coupon sale, and sure enough, it arrived in October of 2000. After another $200 purchase, my anime collection was becoming slightly more respectable. I gobbled up Evangelion and more volumes of the series that I started in May, and I couldn't wait for the next sale from Best Buy.

When it came, the store began to lose its luster. The next coupon I received was good for only 15% off. Even worse was the fact that it would only work on 5 DVDs. I easily maxed out that coupon and just hoped the next one would be better. Over the years, they've gotten progressively worse, unfortunately. Now, the best I can hope for from the retail giant is a coupon for 10% off any three DVDs, CDs, or video games. After tax, that essentially means you can get items for what the stickers say they are.

Even worse, Best Buy no longer seems to be discounting their DVDs as much as they used to, with many newer anime titles even being sold at full MSRP. I found Initial D there last week for $14.99, but with so many other discs wildly overpriced, I didn't even get the lone volume that was on sale. It's no longer worth the gas money to drive to Best Buy, since I can count on a limited selection and prices that rival their mall counterparts, Sam Goody and Suncoast. Why bother shopping at Best Buy when the mall stores have a better selection and a staff that can actually answer questions about the products they sell? Heck, the mall locations even sell Pocky - how can we resist Pocky?

I realize times are tough for retail stores, but they're tough for me too, and I've also had a number of shoddy customer service issues with Best Buy that haven't left me too content with the company lately. After Christmas, I was eager to buy a pile of new PS2 games, but Circuit City had the best sales. Because I was armed with my trusty Best Buy cards, I decided to give them the business instead and have them match the prices. I grabbed Time Crisis 3, Xenosaga, and Unlimited Saga, since I couldn't find Final Fantasy X in stock and ran up to the check out line, Circuit City ad in hand for the cashier.

When I got there, however, I was in for a nasty ride. The woman at the register - a manager, no less - told me that when matching prices, the items I'm getting must be in stock at the competing store.

"Okay, that's fine. So what do we do, call them?" I asked. The lady nodded, took me over to customer service, and called the nearest Circuit City - a very large new store about 7 miles away from the Best Buy.

She got a hold of a live person rather quick, and then asked if they had the games in stock. "Yeah, do you guys have Unlimited Sega, Ex-o-saga, and Time Crisis 3 with the gun? Sure, I'll hold." A minute passes. "No? Oh, okay, I didn't think you would."

She turned to me and said, "Sorry, they don't have any of these items in stock, so we can't match the prices. I'll take you back to the line and we can just check you out."

I was shocked, but anger was quickly replacing it. "How do you know they didn't have it? Most employees can't find something if they know what it is, but you didn't even give them the right titles! And there's about a $100 price difference in their cost and your cost. Why would I possibly want to spend an extra $100 just because you called the wrong person?"

"So, you don't want these?"

"No, thanks, I'll go see if I can find them there myself."

One hour later, I found myself purchasing 15 new games from Circuit City. In addition to the titles I wanted at Best Buy, I found about ten games that Best Buy never carried, along with Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X. I bought extra stuff at Circuit City out of spite, something I never thought I'd do, but then Best Buy has been getting more and more useless, and I really wanted to get some video games.

As a retail worker, I go out of my way to be kind and understanding when a fellow employee is having a hard time. Lately, though, it seems that nothing goes well for me at Best Buy. Thus, unless they begin to mend their ways, I won't be going there for a long time. I suppose it's just as well - I'd rather support Animenation and The Right Stuf anyway, nowadays.

Am I being a bit harsh on one company for a series of unrelated unfortunate events? Perhaps, but I still feel that I have a high tolerance for annoyance when it comes to retail experiences. If anyone has any comments - whether you feel as I do about Best Buy or other large retail stores or if your experience differs from mine - I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, I should be taking advantage of that crazy Geneon sale...

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