When is the last time you walked into Target, Walmart, Kmart or (insert name of any major retailer here) to find they completely overhauled the footprint of their store? We're not talking one or two departments or switching out grills and patio furniture for artificial Christmas trees and those subtle inflatable holiday lawn ornaments but rather gutting the store and going with an entirely new layout. That's what I found when I visited my local Best Buy over the weekend.
When I walked through the second of two sliding glass doors, said my customary hello to the security guard/greeter, and finally looked around I was blown away. Nothing (and I mean nothing) was the same as it was the last time I went shopping there. I actually found myself trying to determine how long it had been since my last visit--the construction project was that substantial.
Best Buy has long been known for experimenting with floor plans at various concept stores  throughout the United States and they continue to push the envelope even though Circuit City, their biggest competitor, has gone the way of the dodo bird.
I couldn't help but ask a few employees about the motivation behind the changes and what shoppers can expect once construction is finished. The cashier I spoke with lit up with excitement when I asked about the renovation. She was incredibly knowledgeable about the project and even asked me what I thought of the change so far.
With this incarnation, their motivation is increasing connectivity both in the store, and online.  At this location, they are getting rid of all departments--beyond creating a much more open floor plan (which I'm sure will increase the average amount of time shoppers spend in the store and thus drive sales), that also means the person helping you with a computer can also help you with any other product throughout the store (which means shoppers will now have a single point of contact, personalizing their in-store experience ). They will also be launching something similar to Redbox  which, according to the store associate I spoke with, will make shopping online and picking up your merchandise in the store quite a bit easier.
My favorite design feature was moving the wall of flat screen TVs to the back of the store. Once construction is finished, you won't help but notice a floor to ceiling display of high-definition action from the parking lot. And, like mosquitos to a bug light, shoppers will almost certainly be drawn there--and that means they're going to walk by a ton of merchandise during their round trip.
But not all changes will be occurring inside Best Buy. Earlier this month, they announced that ECOtality will offer Blink Electric Vehicle Charging Stations at 12 store locations  by March 2011. I don't know about you, but if I ever happen to own an electric car, I'd much rather spend my time checking out cool new gadgets at Best Buy while I'm "fueling up" than standing out in the cold at a gas station.
Will Best Buy's concept stores and partnership with ECOtality help them rule the world of retail? Time will tell. Until then, I look forward to watching them drive innovation around the shopping experience.