I miss Best Buy

The other day I went to Chinese electronics retail giant Suning (苏宁) to pick up a new USB drive. I’ve never been impressed by either Suning or Gome (国美), but my most recent visit made me wonder if with Best Buy’s recent closing, they’ve just kicked back and completely stopped trying altogether.

I was looking at Sandisk’s USB drives, eyeing the 8 GB one, and then I noticed an equally compact 16 GB version. I asked the price, which wasn’t listed. The exact same model 16 GB drive was quite a bit more than twice the price of the 8 GB model. Hoping against hope, I asked if this wasn’t a little strange (check here for an example of normal pricing on Amazon), and that if she might have gotten the price wrong. I forget what the salesperson said, exactly, but the message was clear: “I think you’re confusing me with someone who gives a damn.”

Take a number

Anyway, I decided to go with the 8 GB version, but I forgot that I wasn’t at Best Buy anymore. I couldn’t take my selection to checkout, I had to take a special number to the far side of the store to make my payment in a carefully hidden location. But the amusing thing was that my order number was not printed out, or even handwritten on a standard form. No, it was scrawled on a random scrap of paper. Classy.


Anyway, I found the cashier in a desolate corner of the store and made my payment. (Apparently the number wasn’t made up, at least.) I located the original salesperson, wondering where my purchase was. She had cast it aside on a random shelf under some earphones. She retrieved it for me. I asked for a bag. Sorry, no bags.

So, walking towards the exit with my unbagged purchase, I wondered how I looked any different from a shoplifter just making off with an item plucked from the shelves. Many Chinese stores that use the “cashier all the way across the store and nowhere near the exit” system have a guard at the exit who checks for a receipt. At Suning, there were no guards, no employees in sight. Just a big wide swath of apathy pointing the way out.

Yeah, I must admit that I miss Best Buy. I still think “service” is a good idea.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. 下次带一个环保袋吧!

  2. I would have lost Best Buy in my recent move south anyway, but yeah — while Suzhou had a Best Buy life in China was just a little more comfortable.

    I hate shopping in general, but like most guys jump at a chance to wander around a Best Buy (or Futureshop, as we have in Canada).

    Now, I buy virtually everything on Taobao – 10x the selection, 1/4 the apathy (pleading for positive feedback) and with Alipay protection on purchases, a lot less risk of getting ripped off than a buy at the local electronic city.

  3. John,
    I hear ya on Best Buy, absolutely my favorite place. I was recently buying jewelry for my wife and noticed in Singapore they are pretty relaxed with having lots of expensive jewelry all over the counter that seems very easy to run away with. Easy to do when each small store has 10 cameras and there is nowhere to hide in Singapore.

    In contrast, in Paris I saw double locking electronic doors that are only opened when the manager pushes a button to keep would be jewel thieves at bay. Minimal cameras.

    Does Gome have serious cameras installed?

    Long time reader but first time commenter

  4. I remember buying an air filter at Suning in Shenzhen…the staff had no idea what was going on. My wife and I had to make a second trip there because we decided to research the available brands on our own. When we went back to make our purchase it took a long time to get the product even though we were the only people in the store.

  5. I agree with you “I think service is still a good idea”.

    I am in Columbus, Ohio’s Tim Horton’s restaurant now having coffee and a bagel.
    It smelled delicious and was served by a frowning server. Aren’t smiles or kind words free?

    Service is something that takes effort, but it keeps your business on the minds of the customers. Be it good or bad… but I’m sure that customers appreciate good service more so than poor service.

    With this being said… John, make sure you give your customers good service so they think of you with a smile

  6. Never purchase pc hardware or digital stuffs there. Always stickimg to newegg, icson & jingdong.

  7. mropportunity Says: July 15, 2011 at 7:33 am

    this looks like an opportunity
    training customer service at suning

  8. david in qingdao Says: July 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    John, what really surprises me is not the lack of service, but the fact that you’re not buying online. Even with my very limited Chinese I have been able to buy many things online. With your skills, you have no excuse!

  9. Anthony Says: July 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    John, looks like you’re going to soon have to educate the young uns , “back in my day
    there was a thing called S-E-R-V-I-C-E”

  10. 淘宝 FTW.

  11. Richard Taylor Says: July 19, 2011 at 12:41 am

    One day last month I spent a week in Suning in Shenzhen.

    We just opened a sales office in Shenzhen and needed to purchase all the amenities. Each of the Chinese ladies on our sales staff is a tough negotiator on their own. Poor sales people at Suning didn’t stand a chance against all four of them at the same time.

    The concept of ‘missing’ Best Buy is a sad commentary on the state of the electronics/appliance industry in China. I suppose they are ok if computers are avoided.

  12. 黄建才 Says: July 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    agreed. best buy was awesome. but taobao is MORE awesome. and thats why there is no more best buy.

  13. In Hong Kong the big electronics chains have much better service than what you explained, but the selection and pricing can be quite bad. I don’t like to haggle, and it seems strange to haggle at a brand-name chain store, though I hear they entertain some bargaining. I wouldn’t buy from those stores unless I absolutely couldn’t find it somewhere else or if I just had no time to look anywhere else.

    For the best prices you have to go to the specialty areas in the city (Wanchai, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po), where there are aggregations of computer, TV, or audio stores. Those are mostly small businesses and, though on the lower floors some haggling may be called for, there is heavy competition and some places will open with the cheapest price. I actually find the higher the floor (and hence lower desirability of shop position), the better the price and more “honest” the business.

    Of course all of this is a far cry from the US model where I don’t even leave the house and just overnight ship the exact product I’m looking for from Amazon or newegg.

    Finally, for all the talk of Hong Kong being such an impressive shopping center, I’ve found that generally the convenience of finding things and the return and exchange policies are much worse than what you’d find even at mid-tier American cities. Maybe I’m just shopping for the wrong things…

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