Store manager Jenine Bryant scanned the entrance of the Best Buy, sizing up each customer who passed through. A blond woman in a fashionable...

Share story

SANTA ROSA, Calif. —

Store manager Jenine Bryant scanned the entrance of the Best Buy, sizing up each customer who passed through. A blond woman in a fashionable white shirt and flower-patterned pants wandered in unsteadily, fumbling inside her purse for a scrap of paper.

She looked at it, looked up at the signs denoting how the store is laid out, then looked down and up again. Bryant recognized her immediately and rushed over.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The woman was a “Jill,” code name for a soccer-mom type who is the main shopper for the family but usually avoids electronics stores. Well-educated and usually confident, she is intimidated by the products at Best Buy and the clerks who spout words like gigabytes and megapixels.

Best Buy is trying to change that by giving her the rock-star treatment at selected stores, sending sales associates with pink umbrellas to escort the Jills to and from their cars on rainy days and hoisting giant posters in the stores that pay homage to the Jills and their children, who are shown playing with the latest high-tech gadgets.

Big chain stores used to be among the most egalitarian of places. They were aimed at the average person, the generic “shopper,” without conscious regard to background, race, religion or sex.

Who’s who at Best Buy


The electronics store has begun to woo a roster of shopper profiles, each given a name:

Buzz: the young tech enthusiast

Barry: the wealthy professional

Ray: the family man

Jill: the soccer-mom who usually avoids electronics stores

That is changing as computer databases have allowed corporations to gather an unparalleled amount of data about their customers. Many retailers are analyzing the data to figure out which customers are the most profitable — and the least — and to adjust their policies accordingly.

Express clothing stores no longer accept returns from those the company deems to be serial returners. Filene’s Basement has gone so far as to ban a few customers from its stores because of excessive returns and complaints.

Such endeavors have proved controversial, because the computer programs that try to determine a customer’s true value are still a work in progress, with the potential to alienate as well as attract good spenders.

But Best Buy Chief Executive Bradbury Anderson, inspired by Columbia University Professor Larry Selden’s book, “Angel Customers and Demon Customers,” is on a mission to reinvent how the company thinks about shoppers.

Best Buy has pared some less desirable shoppers from its mailing lists and tightened up its return policy.

It has also begun to woo a roster of shopper profiles, each given a name: Buzz (the young tech enthusiast), Barry (the wealthy professional), Ray (the family man) and, especially, Jill.

Based on analyses of purchases, local census numbers, surveys of customers and targeted focus groups, Best Buy last fall started converting its 67 California stores to cater to one or more of those segments of its shopping population.

It plans to roll out a similar redesign at its 660 stores nationwide over the next three years.

Three Best Buys in the Washington, D.C., area, for instance, are being transformed into stores for Barrys, featuring leather couches where one might imagine enjoying a drink and a cigar while watching a large-screen TV hooked up to a high-end sound system.

The Santa Rosa Best Buy, Store 120, is Jill’s store.

Pink, red and white balloons festoon the entrance. TVs play “The Incredibles.” There is an expanded selection of home appliances and displays stocked with Hello Kitty, Barbie and SpongeBob SquarePants electronic equipment.

Nooks for play

Nooks are set up to look like dorms or recreation rooms where Mom and the children can play with high-tech gadgets.

Best Buy has new express-checkout lines for Jill; store managers say anyone can use them, but if you are not escorted by a special service representative, they can be easy to miss.

The music over the loudspeakers has been turned down a notch and is usually a selection of Jill’s favorites, such as James Taylor and Mariah Carey.

But who exactly is Jill?

“She’s very smart and affluent,” Best Buy employee Jenn Metzger said.

“Jill is a decision maker. She is the CEO of the household,” said Tony Sagastume, general manager for the Santa Rosa Best Buy.

“Jill’s children are the most important thing in her life,” Bryant said.

According to Best Buy’s data, Jill usually shops only a few times a year at an electronics store but spends a significant amount.

Since October’s redesign, Jills have increased their spending at the Santa Rosa store by 30 percent, helping boost this year’s revenue to a projected $75 million to $80 million, up from around $50 million a year previously, and pushing its customer loyalty rating to among the top five in the country.

Nationwide, such “customer centricity” stores had an 8.4 percent increase in sales in the quarter ended May 28, compared with the same period a year ago, Best Buy executive John Walden said in June.

About 20 percent of the overhaul has to do with store merchandise, but the other 80 percent is more about the customer experience, said Susan Busch, a Best Buy spokeswoman.

About a dozen of the Santa Rosa store’s 210 employees are part of what is known internally as the Jill segment team. To customers, this group is known as personal shopping associates.

Wearing pastels instead of the royal blue shirts worn by other salespeople, they are stationed at an island smack in the center of the store decorated with fake purple flowers and stuffed animals.

At the entrance, Bryant, greeting the blond woman, asked her, “Is there anything special you’re looking for today?”

“Oh, yes,” said the woman, Ann Facciano, 59, glancing down at the paper in her hand. “Playstation-2-Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory?”

On Jill’s team

Bryant introduced Facciano to another Jill team member, Jeremy Herman, 18, who beamed at her, led her to the selection of games, pulled out the appropriate box, then walked her to the express-checkout counter.

“Perfect!” Facciano exclaimed, admitting she usually asks her husband to shop at Best Buy when she needs something.

When Herman explained the store’s new focus and handed her a card with his work e-mail address and a phone number for the specially trained Jill associates, Facciano squinted at the balloons and the new children’s displays.

“I guess I had better start coming in here more and figuring out what you have,” she said.

Meanwhile, another woman, in an almost identical crisp white shirt walked in, looking confused. Another Jill.

Bryant jumped in front of her. “Are you finding everything all right?”

“Uh, no,” the woman said. “Uh, I have this Dell computer and. … “

Bryant smiled, nodded, and they were off.