Odds are you either have an Amazon Prime membership or know someone who does. After all, about half or more of US households have a subscription so they can get free shipping, streaming, and more benefits. It’s incredibly popular, and it’s why Walmart added free shipping to their own membership program. And by most accounts, Walmart+ has done pretty good since its debut.
But almost every store feels the pressure to match Amazon’s free shipping membership. For instance, Target gives its RedCard holders free shipping on most orders. And while Best Buy has promoted its free and fast shipping on $35 orders without a membership, the electronics chain is preparing its next move to move in on Amazon’s turf.
A Brief Best Buy Summary
Best Buy, of course, has been fighting back against Amazon for years. The chain was once in a perilous position, often being treated by customers as an Amazon showroom, but Best Buy has turned their fortunes around. That was thanks in part to an unconventional hire as their new CEO in 2012.
Anyway, I’ve discussed shopping at Best Buy before. But one of the perks there is their free membership program called My Best Buy which allows customers to earn $5 certificates. While there are bonus point offers, generally, spending $500 will earn a $5 reward. Those who buy $1,500 or more worth of merchandise in a calendar year can speed up earning certificates. They also receive additional benefits like free shipping with no minimum order purchase instead of the normal $35 threshold.
They also have a program called Total Tech Support. It costs $199.99 and covers free phone and online tech support, basic services like data backup and virus removal, and discounted advanced services like TV installation and phone screen replacement.
Best Buy Beta
But now, Total Tech Support may soon be on its way out. By the end of April, 60 stores will be testing a program called Best Buy Beta. For the same price as Total Tech Support (or $20 off with a Best Buy credit card), subscribers will get essentially the same benefits and the following:2 year warranty on most purchasesFree shipping on orders and free delivery and installation on most appliancesExclusive salesExtended returnsSubscription discounts
In the test stores, Total Tech Support has been replaced with Best Buy Beta.
So, right off the bat, the price may cause some sticker shock. After all, it’s twice the price of Walmart+ and at least $60 more than Amazon Prime. That’s a significant chunk of change.
Free shipping and delivery was already a benefit for those who spent $1,500 in a calendar year at Best Buy for Elite status, and those in the Elite Plus tier ($3,500) receive free 2-day shipping and free delivery as soon as the same day. Elite and Elite Plus also get extended returns (30 and 45 days respectively).
The exclusive sales was already a feature for all levels of My Best Buy membership, although Elite/Elite Plus often got early access. So with all of that, I don’t know if perhaps Best Buy will have even better benefits for Beta members or if the goal is to phase out My Best Buy in hopes people will pay for Best Buy Beta. I don’t think an average customer will notice much if My Best Buy does disappear, but it was one of those sign-ups that was nice to have with its (albeit slow) points for a free coupon or the occasional coupon on a product. If it is kept, Elite and Elite Plus will likely need some tinkering. After all, $200 is a fraction of the cost to reach Elite status, and the biggest benefits are now redundant for those who also have/want Best Buy Beta.
Now, all the tech-related benefits like free troubleshooting…I bet most people immediately think of senior citizens. No offense to our elderly, but in general, they have less knowledge of things like RAM, phishing, 4K vs HD, WI-FI, and all that jazz. So I’m sure it gives them (and others) a lot of piece of mind to be able to call the same number no matter if it’s their computer, TV, or smart thermostat acting up. And while service calls are expensive and getting past some low-level customer service agents is frustrating, how often are most people going to use that in a year? And judging by the stories on places like Not Always Right, I imagine a lot of cases end up with a service call charge, a friend/relative having to take over doing the steps, or dragging the device in anyway. Again, one $50-100 fee takes care of a good portion of Best Buy Beta’s cost, but it’s kind of like paying for an extended warranty, which most analysts agree is not a good investment. And there are still fees for filing a service claim.
And speaking of warranties, that’s also a benefit of Best Buy Beta. Most products get a free second year of protection. This is similar to Costco’s default on most tech, and Costco also has concierge support on products. However, that’s for those who bought the item at Costco while Best Buy’s Geek Squad support is for all products in the home. According to comments, if you stop being a Beta member, you lose that second year of protection even if you bought it when you were subscribed, unlike Costco.
Finally, the program gives 10% off subscriptions when billed through Best Buy. This presumably includes Philo, Pandora, Tidal, Norton, Microsoft 365, and more. Nice, but I know sometimes places have better deals directly through them (or by buying a discounted subscription card and loading it to your account) versus a third-party auto-pay. So while it may seem like a way to get another $20+ value out of Best Buy Beta, dealhunters can probably do better.
Will Beta Sink or Swim?
I’m not in a test market or anything, and this program is still launching its test pilot, so there are still a lot of unknowns. But like analysts have pointed out, those who already have Total Tech Support will likely jump on this deal since it comes with most of the same features but a whole bunch of extra benefits like free shipping, delivery, and installation. I imagine, in particular, the elderly who may not have someone (physically) close to them who can pop over and try some basic repairs for free. Problem is that with each year passing, the number of tech-savvy individuals goes up, and I’m sure the pandemic has spurred a lot of people to invest both time and money into a good, comfortable, reliable at-home setup.
Beyond that though…I know I can’t see myself joining. Between Amazon, Walmart, and Costco, I already have most of these benefits covered. Shipping is free on $35+ at Best Buy, and considering they’re mainly tech-focused, it doesn’t take much to get to that threshold since, well, electronics and accessories tend to be expensive. Store pickup — whether same-day or ship-to-store — is offered on a lot of products as well. I also have enough tech know-how to do some basic setup and troubleshooting, and if it’s something I think I’d worry about or is oversized, I’d probably turn to Costco. Best Buy has a larger selection, but four year warranty with a Costco Visa is hard to pass up. And you can get a Costco membership and an Amazon Prime membership for the price of Best Buy Beta. That gives people also free books and magazines to read, free shows to watch, and cheap food court items. Best Buy Beta doesn’t have any of those.
But maybe a lot of people will just latch on to the technical support aspect, and when combined with the magical words “free shipping”, that will be enough. The fact you need to keep your membership active for the second year coverage means a lot of people will surely end up in a sunk cost fallacy: “Well, I’m going to lose my warranty, and fixing it if it breaks will probably cost at or near $200, so I guess I should keep it anyway and get free shipping.” Again, extended warranties are usually a bad bet, and a lot of people recommend just putting the cost of a warranty into a rainy day fund.
But, well, Best Buy Beta is only starting its pilot run. Walmart+ didn’t add free shipping until several months after its actual launch, so Beta could change a lot in the months to come. Or maybe shoppers will pay just to avoid some of the awful reps for some companies and instead hope to get a more premiere experience with Geek Squad and Beta’s concierge service. Maybe Beta sales will be really good. It’s way too early to know, but for me, it’s not worth it. It’s a combination of a high price tag, a lot of benefits I will only use occasionally, and overlap with other stores/membership programs. I think a lot of people will be in that same boat, but whether the number of people on the Beta ship is enough for Best Buy to compete against Amazon and other rivals is yet to be seen.