In this fast-changing world, the customer’s experience matters more than ever before. If the experience is positive and memorable, a customer is more likely to return. It’s even better when a retailer knows what makes a customer happy. In 2009, NCRMA member Best Buy introduced an exceptional customer benefit by reducing barriers to consumer take-back programs and making electronics recycling convenient. While it took time to transform a potentially costly problem of e-waste collection into an operation that benefits both the consumer and the business, today Best Buy employees are just as passionate about the program as customers.
E-waste Take Back: This is Retail in North Carolina
Did you know electronics make up the fastest growing waste stream in the world? Maybe you’ve rummaged through a drawer and discovered an old cell phone or run across an old VCR with its tangle of cords and connectors. When we upgrade phones, televisions and lap tops, our old electronics risk joining more than seven billion pounds of e-waste generated in the U.S. every year. No one understands this better than Best Buy, a leading provider of technology products, services and solutions.
“As the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer, we believe it is our responsibility to encourage recycling and sustainability in all of our communities, for our customers and our employees,” said Scott Weislow, senior director of Environmental Services at Best Buy. “It started as a service to give customers a convenient way to recycle old electronics and appliances. Along the way, it became a corporate priority and an opportunity to work with our communities to positively impact our world.”
When Best Buy decided to address the waste stream with a take-back recycling program for unwanted electronics, its primary goal was to consolidate expensive recycling activities already occurring around the country. A secondary goal was to drive in-store traffic. Since then, this basic service has evolved into a core value proposition for the retailer. Consumers can now recycle all kinds of electronics, regardless of where they were purchased, to any one of Best Buy’s stores.
“Customers love this program because they can easily drop off their older electronics and they know they’ll be recycled responsibly,” says General Manager Anette Morrow at Asheville’s Best Buy. “We also help customers by picking up large items, like a 70-inch TV or an appliance.”
Electronic waste is a growing problem with recognized health hazards. Batteries, computers, printers and cell phones contain toxic heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium. Over time, these toxic chemicals can seep into the ground, water and the atmosphere, posing risks to the environment. Unfortunately, less than half of all Americans are aware that they can recycle old electronics. Best Buy supports state and federal policies focused on producer responsibility that lead to the responsible and efficient recycling or reuse of electronics, including flexibility for offering recycling options to consumers at retail.
“When customers come in to buy a new TV, we ask what they plan to do with their old one,” says Anette. “Then we explain how our program works and how we recycle responsibly.”
Responsible recycling means Best Buy minimizes waste, and the retailer reports that a significant percentage of its recycled products enjoy a second life. Employees are passionate ambassadors who proudly represent the program.
“Sometimes, a customer has a device that’s broken and can’t be fixed, but we can take that product and recycle it by either fixing it to re-sell or using it for parts,” Anette explains. “Sometimes we can even trade it in for a working item. We tell customers that when they’re done, we’ll take care of the product for them. We’ll recycle it responsibly. We’ll make sure we handle each item with care.”
Just inside the door of the Asheville store, the recycling kiosk collects rechargeable batteries, small electronics such as remote controls, cords and cables, and a few other items. Larger items and electronics with personal data are collected inside at the customer service desk. The store collects and ships these items to industry-leading recycling partners three to four times a week.
Anette says the program provides value both inside the store and outside in the community. People know about the service and they’ve come to appreciate it. She describes what old electronics can become in their second life: recycled commodities from electronic products can come back in a variety of new products, ranging from lawn and garden furniture (plastics) to digital watch faces (flat panel TV screens) to jewelry and new electronics (non-ferrous metals).
In September 2014, Best Buy celebrated a goal of collecting one billion pounds of consumer electronics and appliances for recycling. In North Carolina alone, 47 stores recycled more than 2.5 million pounds in 2014. When people drop off their used electronics, more than 50 percent buy something new.
The Asheville Best Buy store is among the most successful at promoting the program and employee turnover is low. Anette says employees have fun and they’re empowered to help customers make decisions, and learn from challenge and change. Every employee receives training to be a “smart friend” for customers, teaching customers how technology products and services can help make their lives easier. Anette and her employees were recently recognized by Best Buy for their support to the recycling program.
“Anette consistently delivers outstanding customer service and showcases our best-in-class recycling program,” said Best Buy Chairman and CEO Hubert Joly. “She’s known for successfully helping customers recycle old items, to upgrade to new technology, going above and beyond the scope of our recycling program. She also ensures all items are recycled properly to retain their value.”
In the end, Best Buy gives us all something to think about. When you consider all that we accumulate in a lifetime and how much of it is electronics, this retailer really does offer a compelling reason to visit its stores. Its recycling program enhances the customer experience and ultimately helps planet earth. This is what we consider a retail innovation.
Think you know retail? You may be surprised.