Best Buy, University of Arizona partner on future of retail
Best Buy, University of Arizona partner on future of retailPublished 06/22/2022
CHRIS HAVENS - STAFF WRITER
In late April, a group of University of Arizona students stood before an audience of Best Buy omnichannel leaders and presented recommendations on how to improve two areas of our business.
It was the culmination of a yearlong project in which nine students researched, analyzed and strategized new approaches for Best Buy’s large-product fulfillment and repair program, and how to engage customers on the Best Buy app more regularly. They worked with dozens of Best Buy employees along the way.
“The students in the program are driven, curious and professional,” said Courtney Capeling, vice president of omnichannel human resources. “The students also gave us brilliant insights on how they perceive our brand. Who we think we are might not be who others think we are.”
That was the goal of the partnership between Best Buy and the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing’s Retail Innovation Lab. Best Buy could get fresh perspectives from students studying retail’s cutting-edge topics, and those students could get access to our employees’ expertise and real-world experience.
“I had such a small perception of what retailing was,” said Amirah Williams, a junior who worked on the large appliance issue. “Before, if you’d asked me what retailing was, I’d talk about a store in the mall.”
While the program does cover store management, it also goes into consumer psychology and behavior, supply chain and logistics, merchandising, demand planning and “retail math” (think determining discounts, sales projections, purchasing inventory, etc.).
“It’s a win-win situation for both students and businesses,” said Scott Hessel, director of the Lundgren Center and faculty adviser for the students working on the Best Buy project. “This kind of project is the most intense activity at the center because it’s a yearlong academic activity.”
Finding a future workforce
The partnership came about as a recruiting experiment.
A couple of factors make the school, located in Tucson, attractive when looking to build an inclusive and diverse talent pipeline: 85% of students are women and more than 40% are Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). Best Buy has set aggressive goals to improve representation and better reflect the communities we serve.
“We need to give students a story of who we are, not just a pitch,” said Victoria Dias, senior market director for the Southwest and 28-year Best Buy veteran. She’s also a Tucson resident and managed the partnership with the school.
To tell that story, Victoria enlisted dozens of Best Buy employees to participate in class sessions, job fairs and large-scale speaking events. They shared their knowledge of omnichannel operations, leadership and building an inclusive culture.
They learned from the students, as well.
“Students bring so much to the table — they have so much insight,” said Eric Placentia, general manager of Store 198 in Tucson. “How can we connect better with them?”
The Lundgren students were split into two groups. Some focused on large-product fulfillment, while the others worked on engaging with customers through the app. A few students worked on both.
Annika Guenther, a junior, worked on the appliance issue and had some past retail experience working for a clothing brand. Learning about supply chain and product delivery was something completely new to her, though.
“I hadn’t thought about how many steps go into delivery, or the roles involved, or how much data goes into it,” she said. “This project has prepared me for the real world.”
Although the topic was intimidating at first, Annika and team learned the valuable skill of breaking down a big project into lots of smaller parts.
Austin Taylor is a senior who worked on both the app and appliance issues. He also has worked at Best Buy for the past five years, currently as an advisor at Store 198.
“I was looking for a different way to develop professionally, and a project came up to help Best Buy,” he said. “I’m an employee and wanted to see what else I could bring to the table.”
He appreciated being able to meet Best Buy leaders he normally wouldn’t see in his store. He also valued the group work with other students he didn’t know beforehand. “I was focused on what Best Buy was as a retailer. My colleagues brought in different ideas,” he said.
For Amirah, getting hands-on with the work, doing research and learning how to improve her communication skills made the project feel like a real job.
“This is what I’ll get in the workforce,” she said.
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