Best Buy Is Finally Making a Comeback

Best Buy employee with box
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The company appears to have found an in-store strategy.

On Thursday, Best Buy BEST BUY BBY 0.0263% delighted fans and investors by reporting a blowout fiscal third quarter. The results, reported before the bell, were non-GAAP diluted EPS at $0.32 per share versus analyst expectations of $0.25 per share. And while total revenue growth was still sluggish at 0.6% over last year’s quarter, that figure also beat analyst expectations by coming in at $9.38 billion versus $9.11 billion.

More importantly, the company appears to have found an in-store strategy. Domestic comparable sales increased 2.4% ex reclassifications, signaling it’s finding a way to use its stores as an advantage against online retailers. And speaking of online retailers, Best Buy increased its domestic online revenue an outstanding 21.6% over the same quarter a year ago. Although online is still a small portion of the total revenue haul, it is encouraging to see Best Buy growing this segment instead of conceding this channel to other retailers.

Great quarter, but is it sustainable?

Over the last five years, Best Buy has had a tough time. The company found itself a victim of the macroeconomic environment and suffered during the recession. However, unlike other retailers, the company never recovered post-recession. The chart below will give you proper context of Best Buy’s struggles versus the greater S&P 500.


Two issues for Best Buy

The company faces two problems: aggressive pricing competition and the discretionary nature of their products. Due to Best Buy’s large store footprint (read: costs), the company would find itself losing a pricing war to online retailers — mostly The trend of shoppers coming into Best Buy stores to test products then buy them from online retailers was so prevalent it inspired its own name: showrooming. CEO Hubert Joly has instituted price-matching strategies and improvements to counteract this trend and it appears to be paying off.

The second issue is the discretionary nature of Best Buy’s products. Unlike a grocer or a discount retailer like Target, consumers generally can postpone electronics purchases until they are more comfortable about the overall economy and their personal finance situation. And although the recession is over, wage growth is still harder to come by. Many were left scarred by the recession and have closed their pocketbooks. In addition, the recession has been tough for technology savvy millennials that are a natural fit for Best Buy’s brand.

Are better times ahead?

However, more recently, price drops in oil and slowing healthcare inflation have given many Americans a stealth pay increase. The consumer confidence index is sharply up and generally portends more discretionary spending, which is good news for Best Buy going into its seasonally heavy fourth fiscal quarter.

There’s been a host of positive economic news — GDP grew at a 3.5%-plus annualized rate the past two quarters, there have been nine straight months of 200,000 jobs created, and an unemployment rate below 6% — that will eventually lead to more discretionary spending. And when that happens, a leaner, better-ran Best Buy will be in a position to benefit from it.

MONEY online shopping

Believe it or Not, Amazon Is Not the King of Cheap Online Prices

Amazon logo
Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images

A new report suggests that Amazon’s edge is not as strong as people think.

As far as conventional wisdom goes, AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN 0.6323% is the king of low-cost goods bought online; the Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT 0.0828% of the Internet, so to speak.

And that’s largely true.

In its rise from a humble online peddler of books into the most feared, and dominant, name in online commerce, Amazon has used its willingness to undercut the competition to send more companies than I can fit in this space the way of the dodo (RIP Borders, et al). However, a recently released report suggests that Amazon’s supposed edge when it comes to low prices might not be as strong as some believe.

Inside the battle for e-commerce

Earlier this month, Wells Fargo and online sales tracking firm 360pi unveiled their findings from a full-year analysis of the various online pricing habits of the world’s largest e-commerce companies across over 100 commonly offered stock-keeping units. And as you’ve hopefully gleaned by now, the findings came with their fair share of surprises.

Perhaps the biggest single bombshell was that has lost a sales edge in four important categories to the likes of Wal-Mart and Target TARGET CORP. TGT 0.4495% . According to the report, both big-box retailers generally offered lower prices online than Amazon in the clothing and shoes, electronics, housewares, and health and cosmetics categories. However, the report also notes that Amazon typically offered the lowest prices when it came to “like-to-like” specifics goods.

This comes as a surprise for longtime followers of Amazon and implies that online pricing software used by Wal-Mart and Target, which scans competitors’ prices and adjusts accordingly, has grown sophisticated enough to compete against Amazon’s own pricing bots. Specifically, the reports says Wal-Mart’s pricing in the four categories sat an astounding 10% lower than Amazon’s as of August and that Target enjoyed a 5% pricing advantage as well. The report acknowledges that the pricing survey didn’t account for the cost of shipping and taxes, areas where Amazon enjoys advantages with its Prime shipping service and its notorious state tax policies.

Either way, this new report certainly calls into question the conventional wisdom that it’s simply Amazon and then everyone else in the online retail space these days.

The bigger e-commerce picture

Still, I think this report misses the point to a large extent by painting Amazon in a negative light on pricing without discussing the overall profit opportunity online.

As and its online peers have been around for a generation now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of categorizing e-commerce as a whole as a somewhat mature business. In fact, the opposite is true. When viewed in the broader context of the entire U.S. economy, online retail sales represent a veritable drop in the bucket. See for yourself.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

With online sales in the U.S. consistently setting fresh all-time highs, it’s also important to understand just how paltry a percentage of total retail transactions they really represent: just 6.2% in the first quarter of the year. And this only reflects the new record figure in a technologically advanced market. Viewed globally, this figure is almost assuredly smaller and it represents a large opportunity for all e-commerce retailers.

There’s no question that the stakes are extremely high in online retail. As I’ve mentioned before, the only free lunch you get in broad-based retail sales are economies of scale. As the global e-commerce boom progresses over the next generation, the companies that control the greatest share of the proverbial pie will have the strongest hand. And both Amazon and Wal-Mart excel in online retail.

Foolish thoughts

Historically, Amazon has always outflanked other online retail outlets. However, owing to the stakes and its well-documented tenacity, it was probably never realistic for the media or investing community to expect a company like Wal-Mart to go quietly into that good night. So while this storyline gives Amazon’s dominance in the growing battle for online sales supremacy, it’s by no means the end of the story, and that is certainly worth noting.

Andrew Tonner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends The Motley Fool owns shares of Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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TIME Gadgets

Report: Apple to Unveil 2 New iPhones and a Watch

Apple's New IPhone Poised for Record Debut as Sales Begin
A customer looks at an Apple Inc. iPhone 5c device during the launch at the company's new store in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

New report on rumors swirling about event on Sept. 9

Get ready, Apple fans: A new report appears to confirm the tech giant will not only unveil two new iPhones at an event on Sept. 9, but will also debut its long-awaited, long-rumored smartwatch.

Apple is still officially mum on what it’s announcing, but a New York Times report — citing unnamed Apple employees and others knowledgeable about the products — addresses a heap of iPhone and so-called iWatch rumors that have trickled out over the last few days, weeks and months.

Here’s the meat and potatoes:

iPhone (Likely “iPhone 6,” but name unconfirmed)

  • Two different sizes, 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, a first for the company. Both are bigger than previous iPhones, and the 5.5-inch model will be more expensive than its smaller brethren.
  • The new, bigger iPhones will have a new one-handed typing feature to better accommodate the smaller-pawed among us.
  • Near-Field Communication (NFC) is coming to the new iPhones, along with a mobile payment system for which Apple is partnering with Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Some top Android phones have long had NFC, but the tech hasn’t really taken off just yet.

iWatch (Name also unconfirmed)

  • It’s geared towards fitness, with footstep and heart-rate monitors built in and a version of Apple’s HealthKit software.
  • It’s covered in “sapphire glass,” which is tougher than your average glass (and already used in parts of previous iPhones).
  • Wireless charging! That’ll make the smartwatch easier to recharge than most other smart fitness bands on the market. Interestingly, the Times says Apple experimented with solar charging, “but that experiment failed.”
  • It’ll work with Handoff, a new OS X/iOS feature that makes it super-simple to start working on a task on one Apple device and seamlessly switch to another.

Stay tuned for more Apple coverage this weekend and on the day of the event.


TIME Companies

Vizio Recalls 245,000 TVs at Risk of Tipping Over

Regulators say the unsturdy TV runs a "risk of impact injury to the consumer"

The U.S. consumer electronics company Vizio issued a recall for some 245,000 television sets that are at risk of tipping over and injuring someone, according to a federal regulator.

The recall applies to all VIZIO E-Series 39-inch and 42-inch TVs, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday. According to the announcement, the stand assembly can fail and lead the TV, which retails at between $370 to $450, to tip over, “posing a risk of impact injury to the consumer.”

Owners who use the stand should immediately detach the television from the stand, and owners who mount their televisions on the wall are still recommended to request a replacement stand because, the regulators say quite reasonably, they may decide to use the stand in the future.


TIME Tablets

These Are the 10 Best Android Tablets of 2014


Here's how to choose the best tablet for you

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at Trusted


Are you on the lookout for an Android tablet? The range is vast and varied so we understand it can be a nightmare finding the right one for your needs. So to help you in your search we’ve selected some of the best Android tablets for a number of different scenarios, whether you want the best for a specific budget or you want a tablet that is perfect for your kids or for work.

If you’d like even more advance on what to look for when buying for a new tablet, you should read our Tablet Buyer’s Guide which explains the strengths and weaknesses of each type of tablet and anything else you may need to consider.

If, on the other hand, you know that the iPad Air or a Windows tablet isn’t for you then here’s the place to be.

One of the golden rules when looking at Android tablets is that you should steer clear of cheap no-name models. There are countless of them and they’re almost never worth the money or the effort of using such inferior products.

As for the “best” Android tablet, well there isn’t really one at the moment. What you have is a number of great Android tablets that do some things better than others. What is best for you may be very different from what the person next to you might need.

Click the next arrow to go through and read a bit more about each tablet to find your perfect Android tablet partner.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Originally reviewed by 09 July 2014

Best Android Tablet Overall

Key features:

  • 8.4-inch Super AMOLED screen
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD slot

It’s taken some time, but we finally have a tablet to knock the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) off its lofty perch. The 2,560 x 1,600 display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is fantastic, making it a great place to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The battery life is great and the slim design means it’ll slip nicely into your bag. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung tablets, it still has some not so great software quirks and the fingerprint scanner is not very useful. But if you are looking for an iPad Mini 2 alternative, then this is currently your best option.

Nexus 7 2013

Originally reviewed by 12 August 2013

Best 7-inch Android Tablet

Key features:

  • 7-inch, 1920 x 1200 IPS screen
  • Powered by a reasonably nippy Snapdragon S4Pro quad-core processor
  • Features a 5-megapixel rear camera
  • 16GB/32GB non-expandable

The successor to the brilliant Nexus 7, Google teamed up with Asus once again for the Nexus 7 2 and it’s still one of the best portable Android tablets to own. So, what’s new? Well, the screen resolution has been bumped up to 1,920 x 1,200, the Tegra 3 processor has been replaced with a Qualcomm snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and there’s now a 5-megapixel main camera. It’s more expensive than the original at £199 but it still looks great and offers a zippy performance. The new camera addition is no different from the average rear-facing snappers we’ve seen on other tablets, though.

TIME electronics

This Smart Cup Knows What’s Inside of It

A smart cup to help users achieve health and fitness goals

Vessyl, whose pre-sale began on Thursday, looks like most portable cups: plastic, handy and durable. But it’s far smarter than your average container.

Created by startup Mark One over seven years, Vessyl is sensor-equipped and immediately reports your drink’s nutrition facts, according to the product’s promotional video.

Once a liquid is poured into the Vessyl, a small digital display will tell you the caffeine, fat and calorie content, among other information. It also identifies the drink—it can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, for example, by calculating differences in sugar content. It even works for alcoholic drinks and thicker fluids like milkshakes and yogurt.

Charged wirelessly, the Vessyl is linked via Bluetooth to your smartphone, where you can manually enter drinks you’ve consumed elsewhere on the Vessyl app. The app then collects data on your hydration level and chemical intake to facilitate a healthy lifestyle.

The Vessyl can be pre-ordered for $99 (it will retail for $199), and will be released by early 2015.

TIME electronics

Beats Rolls Out its First Wireless Earphones

Powerbeats2 Wireless Earphones Released by Beats
A pair of red Powerbeats2 Wireless earphones, which were released on Thursday. Courtesy of Beats Electronics.

No tangles in Beats' newest product

Beats Electronics released the Powerbeats 2 Wireless ear buds on Thursday. The company’s first wireless earphones, the Powerbeats 2 are designed to seamlessly add music to your workout.

An upgraded version of the original Powerbeats headset, Powerbeats 2 features a flat cable that runs between the two earbuds, and boasts redesigned ear hooks and a lighter feel, according to a press release. A Bluetooth connectivity feature will link the earphones to an iPhone or other music-playing device.

“To me this product represents the intersection of sports and music,” Beats president Luke Wood said in the press release. “But most importantly, the Powerbeats 2 Wireless are designed to serve as a tool for athletes at all fitness levels, whether you’re LeBron James in training or just out for a morning run.”

The rechargeable battery can power up to 6 hours of non-stop playback. If low on battery, a 15-minute quick charge will provide an extra hours’ worth of music.

Available online and in select stores, the product is sold in red, white and black—fewer colors than its predecessor—and retails for $200, while the original Powerbeats has been lowered to $150. The new device will be widely available next month.

Apple announced its intention to acquire Beats Electronics on May 28.

TIME retailers

Yep, RadioShack Is Still Doing Terribly

That well-received Super Bowl ad might end up being the only successful endeavor by RadioShack in 2014. The struggling electronics retailer posted another huge loss in the first fiscal quarter, with both overall and same-store sales plummeting.

RadioShack generated just $737 million in the first quarter, down from $848 million a year ago. Same-store sales were down 14 percent due to decreased foot traffic and underperformance in mobile sales. The company’s net loss was $98 million, more than triple the $28 million loss during the same period last year.

The retailer has faced headwinds for years, but RadioShack’s problems have escalated as consumers have grown more accustomed to buying electronics online through sites like Amazon. RadioShack CEO Joseph Magnacca said in a release that the company will reverse its fortunes by expanding its line of concept stores and launching new, exclusive products.

RadioShack said earlier this year it’s planning to close more than 1,000 of its U.S. locations, but in its earnings report the company said it now plans to close just 200 this year.

TIME technology

Here’s the Totally Amazing Wonder Material That Could Revolutionize Technology

The Progression From Graphite To Graphene
Boston Globe—Boston Globe via Getty Images

Graphene is a better conductor. It's transparent. It's lightweight. It's strong. It's flexible and elastic. In other words, it could change the electronics business

This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at

In the technology industry, every new product or service seems to come with the promise that it is an innovation with the potential to change the world. Graphene, a form of carbon, might actually do just that.

“Graphene is a wonderful material,” Jeanie Lau, a professor of physics at the University of California at Riverside, told Fortune. “It conducts heat 10 times better than copper and electricity 100 times better than silicon, is transparent like plastic, extremely lightweight, extremely strong, yet flexible and elastic. In the past decade, it has taken the scientific and technology communities by storm, and has become the most promising electronic material to supplement or replace silicon.”

Graphene has already found its way into a number of compelling applications, Lau said. For instance, “since it is both transparent and electrically conductive — two attributes rarely found in the same material in nature — it has tremendous potential as the transparent electrode in monitors, displays, solar cells, and touch screens,” she explained. “Companies such as Samsung that invest heavily in this area have already secured patents, produced prototypes, and are expected to bring products to market in a few years.”

Wearable electronic devices, aviation components, broadband photodetectors, radiation-resistant coatings, sensors, and energy storage are among numerous other areas of active research, Lau said.

For many researchers and investors, the ultimate application is graphene-based transistors, the building blocks of modern electronics. But getting there may take some time.

A child of graphite

First produced in a lab back in 2004, graphene is essentially a single layer of pure carbon atoms bonded together in a honeycomb lattice so thin it’s actually considered two-dimensional.

“We generally regard anything less than 10 layers of graphene as graphene; otherwise, it’s graphite,” said Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a lecturer in nanomaterials at the University of Manchester.

Even “graphene” is a bit of an umbrella term. “To oversimplify, there are two major types of graphene,” Michael Patterson, CEO of Graphene Frontiers, said. The first: “Nanoplatelets,” which are powders or flakes made from graphite. These have been around for a while and are “not really super-sexy,” Patterson said. “You mix them into polymers or inks or rubbers to make them conductive.” In flake form, graphene is already on its way to becoming a commodity, Patterson added.

MORE: Fitness trackers are on the outs, but wearables are not

The other type — in sheet or film form — is where graphene’s biggest promise lies. Graphene sheets have “incredible potential for electronics,” Patterson said. In the near term, that potential may manifest in situations where the quantity requirements are “not that great” and where quality or conductivity doesn’t have to be as high, such as in basic touch-screen applications, he said. Products that use graphene in this way could arrive to market in the next six to 12 months.

Looking a little further out, graphene can be employed in membranes used for water desalination. Lockheed-Martin already has a patented product known as Perforene. “It’s real and it works, but it won’t be economically viable until the product reaches an industrial scale where the cost is measured in pennies per square inch” rather than dollars or tens of dollars per square inch, Patterson explained. “That’s where we’re working today.”

‘It’s expensive and low-capacity’

But use of graphene in semiconductors — the technology’s Holy Grail — is likely a decade away.

“Many of the challenges presented by graphene are common to most new materials,” Paul Smith, a patent associate with the Intellectual Property Law Group at Fenwick & West, toldFortune. “The trick is figuring out how to synthesize graphene in a way that first is manufacturable beyond lab scale; second, preserves the desirable properties of the material; and third, can be integrated into a product or technology.”

Synthesizing graphene in sheet form is considerably more expensive and time-consuming than producing graphene flakes. Whereas the latter typically involves a “quick and dirty” process by which bulk graphite is disassembled into millions of tiny pieces, Lau explained, large sheets of graphene are carefully “grown” on substrates such as copper, germanium, or silicon carbide.

MORE: Personal digital assistants, rise up!

Graphene sheets are also prone to defects and “very difficult to make in good quality,” Ron Mertens, owner and editor of, said.

Production capacity is also very limited. “There are thousands of small companies that can make graphene, but it’s expensive and low-capacity,” Mertens said. A round wafer measuring one inch in diameter, for instance, costs about $100, he added.

An even thornier obstacle on the way to graphene transistors is the fact that the material has no “band gap,” an essential property that allows transistors to be turned on and off without leaking electronic charge in the “off” state, said Elias Towe, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Band-gap engineering has been and remains the biggest challenge in the development of graphene transistors and computer chips,” Lau said.

It requires controlling the material almost down at the atomic level, and “that’s really pushing the edges of existing technology,” Patterson said. “In 10 years, we’ll start to see these problems be solved.”

‘It is largely a matter of time’

If graphene is to succeed as a replacement for silicon, every unit of cost and performance will make a difference, Towe said.

“Silicon is hard to displace, with all the billions dollars of investments made in manufacturing infrastructure,” he said. “A replacement for silicon has to offer extraordinary performance at extremely rock-bottom cost to compel industry to change its way.”

Though graphene is just 10 years old — in contrast, use of silicon in transistors dates to the early 1950s — considerable progress has already been made. For example, the largest graphene sheet was produced by hand in a laboratory eight years ago; its width was less than that of a human hair. “Nowadays, roll-to-roll printing of graphene sheets up to 100 meters long has been achieved,” Lau said.

“With the increasing interest, investment, and research in graphene-based technology, I think it is largely a matter of time before the economy of scale kicks in and truly low-cost, large-scale production of high-quality graphene is accomplished,” she added.

MORE: Why Google and Facebook are drooling over drone companies

The next series of hurdles “can be overcome with time and effort,” said Vijayaraghavan of the University of Manchester. “We’re learning new things every day. There is still much we don’t understand, and still plenty of research to be done.” For example, researchers have only just begun to study the consequences of graphene pollution on the environment and human health.

Still, the possibilities that graphene holds for the nearly $2 trillion global electronics industry are difficult to ignore.

“Imagine a tiny chip, one-tenth the size of a postage stamp, that your doctor could use to test for all kinds of things,” Patterson said. “You’d walk in, and instead of having to give three vials of blood to test for two things and then get the results the next day, your doctor could use one drop of blood to test for hundreds of things and you’d get the results right away. Graphene makes it possible.”

TIME Technologizer

LittleBits’ Space-Themed Electronics Kit Is Plug-and-Play and NASA-Approved


Snap-together electronics modules let you learn about space exploration by building stuff

What if experimenting with electronics was more like playing with Lego? That’s the idea behind LittleBits, a system of modules such as motors, displays, sensors and buzzers. They’re color-coded, snap together magnetically and come with instructions for projects, letting young and not-so-young amateur engineers build stuff without ever getting near a soldering gun.

Today, LittleBits is introducing a new package called the Space Kit. And it’s doing it in collaboration with the ultimate expert on its theme of space exploration: NASA. The space agency collaborated with the company on the projects supplied with the kit, which provides build-it-yourself desktop versions of some of the devices and technologies used by real astronauts.

The $189 collection includes modules such as a DC motor, an LED display, a microphone, a speaker and a doohickey that can accept input from a standard remote control. You combine these parts with household items of your own–bowls, aluminum foil, string, craft sticks–to create projects such as a robotic grappler, satellite dish, star chart and energy meter.

As with Lego, it’s all very well to piece together LittleBits projects using the supplied plans, but the same parts can be mixed and matched for a more inspiring purpose: inventing your own items from scratch. You can share your creations on LittleBits’ site, where you’ll find an array of gizmos designed by teachers, students and other enthusiasts, from a space helmet to the baby stroller of the future.

See LittleBits’ video about the Space Kit below.

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