Resurrecting the PC? Best Buy CEO Jolly says tablet sales are “crashing”

Interesting take on this coming Christmas and the future of big mobile…

Re/code has landed in Minneapolis to talk to the folks at Best Buy — the last standing nationwide big-box, bricks-and-mortar consumer electronics retailer, with over 1,000 main stores and hundreds of smaller mobile device stores.

The chain, survivor of a breed that once included competitors like Circuit City and CompUSA, is waging a multi-front battle for relevance and even survival. Its foes: Online-only alternatives like Amazon, deep discounters like Walmart and high-touch boutique stores like Apple.

It’s also battling the trend called “show-rooming” in which consumers try out products in a store like Best Buy but then buy online from e-tailers like Amazon. To fight this, it has expanded its price matching to include online sellers. And it is revamping its website (which was ugly, hard to navigate and hard to search) in the hope that it will become a bigger shopping destination for people who start, or even complete, purchases online.

But it may have more fundamental problems: Sinking sales of Windows PCs, once a reliable Best Buy mainstay, which had their worst sales year ever in 2013; and, lately, a dive in the sales of the presumed replacement for all those laptops: Tablets.

Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly gave an exclusive interview to me at company headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb.

You said the tablet had “crashed.” Do you believe it’s going away?

Yeah, “crashed” is a strong word. So, the tablets have been an unbelievable phenomenon. I don’t think there’s a category that ever took off so quickly and so big in the history of tech.

The issue has then been that, once you have a tablet of a certain generation, it’s not clear that you have to move on to the next generation.

As a consumer?

As a consumer. I think replacement is the issue. The penetration has gone so fast that it’s reaching an amazing degree and therefore it becomes more of a replacement market, and the level of innovation in the past year has not been as great as it had been in the previous two years. So, there again, the jury’s out in terms of what’s going to happen, because it’s going to depend on what innovation comes to market. But you need a reason to replace.

And the smartphone?

In the U.S., we are now achieving levels of penetration that are quite significant and it’s evolving now into more of a replacement market. So, it’s still huge volume, but you don’t have the same growth here in the U.S.

The bulk of our business is in the U.S. and the U.S. market has grown mature.

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