TheStreet reporter Brian Sozzi visited a dozen key retailers on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the weekend to assess their performance during one of the biggest shopping events of the year.
ISLIP, N.Y. (TheStreet) -- Shoppers in search of the hottest new smartphones and televisions on Black Friday and the following weekend were seen huddled in deep conversation with Best Buy (BBY) employees. Holiday results this year for the retailer may depend on investments made in employee training, especially when it comes to sales of complex tech gear.
"A lot more training [is] going on with our associates to really have the knowledge of this technology," said Best Buy store manager Scott Cerniglia in an interview with TheStreet at a Westbury, N.Y., location. Enhanced training of Best Buy's employees is vital in getting consumers to understand how smartphones interact with smart televisions and connected home products, he said.
That knowledge sharing is intended to bolster the chance of a sale as well as drive more sales of tech products that interact with one another.
At seven Best Buy stores in the New York area, visited 15 times from their openings at 5:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day through the Sunday following Black Friday, consumers were talking at length with Best Buy employees for up to 30 minutes in some cases.
Cameras are another high-tech item Best Buy is pushing. The store Cerniglia manages is one of two in the New York area with new Canon (CAJ) and Nikon (NINOY) camera shops, which feature one-on-one customer service. Each associate has received intensive training in the merchandise by photographers and other experts, he said.
Investments in training may already be paying off. Same-store sales at Best Buy's 1,052 U.S. stores increased 3.2% in the third quarter, outpacing the 2% decline anticipated by analysts.
An encouraging start to the holiday shopping season, even one powered by knowledgeable associates, does not guarantee Best Buy gets a sale instead of a rival like Walmart (WMT) , Target (TGT) or Amazon (AMZN) . But if the third quarter is any indication, it's a strategy that could work.
Best Buy Black Friday Scorecard
Number of stores visited: Seven
Location: Long Island, N.Y.
Times visited: 5:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day to 12:00 p.m. Sunday
Bag size (Big bags means big items which mean more money for the retailer): Large, featuring big-ticket merchandise in the television category, especially 4K ultra high-definition technology. Further, connected home and smartwatches and fitness bands sold briskly.
Crowd size (How big are the crowds): Consistently large.
Staff size (Is there enough staff to handle the crowds): Mostly large enough, but Best Buy could have used even more employees to handle robust customer traffic and the one-on-one sales approaches being used at various vendor shops.
Out of stock areas (Empty shelves): Motorola 360 smartwatch, FitBit fitness trackers, Mophie chargers for the Apple (AAPL) iPhone and Apple's Beats by Dre headphones.
Too much stock (Overstocked on key items): Video games and DVDs.
Desperate promotions (Discounts too big compared to competitors): Nothing irrational, except for phone cases for the iPhone 5 and 5s. The cases were being sold for $79.99 compared to $99.99 a year ago, as Best Buy tried to move this inventory due to the arrival of the Apple iPhone 6 and 6+.