Best Buy, Bad Design Jason 24 Jul 2006

45 comments Latest by Jay Mathews

I was looking for a MacBook and checked Best Buy’s site. I entered my zip code and got back a list of stores in my area that may have the item in stock. It was looking good:

“Apple MacBook… is available at the following stores:” But on closer inspection, and after reading two lines of light grey 9px type, I noticed some exceptions:

  • Products that are AVAILABLE will show the store name in bold.

Well that’s good. All the store names listed are in bold. So I guess they have the item in stock. Time to jump in the car. Oh, wait…

  • Products that are UNAVAILABLE will show the store name grayed out.

That’s bad.

How about this. If it’s not in stock at a store don’t list the store. If it’s not in stock anywhere just tell me. Don’t play bold vs. normal and black vs gray. Make it simple. If it’s there, show it. If not, don’t.

45 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Gary 24 Jul 06

Has anyone else noticed a significant increase in the number of posts on 37svn since it was that announce Bezos is now a minority shareholder in 37signals?

I guess having some extra cash helps give you guys more free time to post to 37svn.

This is not a complaint, I love 37svn … the more content the better.

Jeff Croft 24 Jul 06

Not that I agree with this line of thinking at all, but I would imagine their “argument” for this would be that they want to push the addresses of their stores in your face as often as possible.

tino 24 Jul 06

doesn’t surprise me. It’s just typical Best Buy crap … get used to it! It’s all over the Web, which you know :)

Michael Egan 24 Jul 06

I’ve made 3 purchases on the Best Buy Canada website and I doubt I’ll ever make another.

After I make an order I get an automated message 12 hours after that for some unspecified reason I need to phone in to complete my order. The sales rep tells me that they verify every order by phone “for my convenience and security”. This happened twice more when I used the same login and credit card. Once I can understand - but every time? When the whole order process takes longer than a trip to the retail store then there’s not much point, is there?

Thomas Kern 24 Jul 06

i would have to disagree with you.
it is important to know which stores would have them in stock. its just a matter of how you show it:

4th column shows if its in stock or not. if its green its available immediately.

Jeff Croft 24 Jul 06


Why would we care about the stores that don’t have them in stock? Is there anything those Best Buy’s can do for us?

The site you linked to is an entirely different animal. You’re showcasing several different retailers. in that case, we do get important info: notably, we get the competitor’s price, even if the item is out of stock.

In this case, the only thing we get is an advertisement for a store that can’t sell us what we want. Which, of course, is entirely useless.

sham 24 Jul 06

Time is “spurty.” When you’re working on a Backpack calendar for release, there is less time to post. Then: SPURT! You’re done and suddenly there’s time.

When you are getting an investor, there is less time to post. Then: SPURT! He’s onboard, things are comfortable, and there is time to post.

When you’re busy, it’s understandable that the priority of posts to the blog are lower.

Okay, now on to the shitty UI on Best Buy’s website. Typographic indicators are not cool for this kind of information. I wonder about accessibility too, how does a screen reader say something in grey?

Ali 24 Jul 06

By showing the store’s name they’ve shown you instantly that they actually have a record of all the stores in your local area. So next time you’re looking for a book, you’ll KNOW that their website actually tracks the stores in your area.

I know that not showing out the store’s names at all would be more user friendly but it wouldn’t be so much wallet-friendly.

Thomas Kern 24 Jul 06


i dont know if we care but i do. You can always call them and check if it is in stock within a few days etc.

By the way, is this list of best buy showing only “best buy”-local-stores? I am sorry, but i am not familiar with Best-Buy at all.

Ali 24 Jul 06

But yea, I would agree that they should make it clear if the stores don’t have the item you’re looking for. E.g by displaying the stores that have the item and those that don’t seperately, or simply saying something like Store Name (X items in stock).

Jamie Stephens 24 Jul 06

So I guess if it is both not bold AND grayed out then it is really not available. And if it is not bolded, but also not grayed out, then it is kind of available. I think this is really good stuff. It’s like logic puzzles for the GRE or the LSAT.

jeremy 24 Jul 06

It seems to me this obscuring of the meaning of information after an active request for in stock items is meant to draw people to the store. More patient or proactive shoppers will take the steps of reading the smaller text or calling the store to verify the presence of the item they want to purchase. But those with short attention spans will see the name of a store near them and head off to buy their desired item. Once you get someone in the store you have a better chance of them leaving money behind, or buying a similar product to the one they want while their resistance to purchase is low.

I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as misleading or deceptive, but it could have the potential of luring those ready to part with their money into the building.

sham 24 Jul 06


You can’t call them unless you find the phone number somewhere else. For some reason, Best Buy does not list the phone number with the store listing. Hmmm, wonder why.

If you are unfamiliar with Best Buy, they are a large chain store in the USA that sells computers, iPods, televisions, CDs, DVDs, and washing machines.

Oooo Jamie - good catch on the example being in bold and greyed.

Jake Boxer 24 Jul 06

I agree that this is bad design. But I don’t think showing all the nearby stores, whether in stock or not, is the problem. I am happy to see all the stores near me when I do this search, for consistency’s sake.

For example: I search for a 30GB white iPod, I see the 5 closest stores. Three have it, two don’t. Then I search for a 60GB black iPod. I see the same 5 stores, and this time, one has it, and four don’t. To some users, seeing the list of nearby stores drop from three to one may be confusing. The consistency of seeing the closest stores every time is important.

The real problem here is the way the in-stock/out-of-stock information is presented. Especially bad is that it says “Products that are AVAILABLE will show the store name in bold,” when it seems like the store name will be in bold whether or not the product is available. Also, the situation is made worse by the fact that, in this case, all six stores do not have the product in stock, and therefore leave no chance for comparison.

In my opinion, the best approach to take here would be to alter the display depending on the results. If some of the stores have the item in stock and some don’t, display the results with one obvious, varying element (maybe in-stock stores have a green check mark next to them). If all or none of the stores have it in-stock, make it very obvious (a red line of text above that says “None of these stores have your item in stock. Would you like to see more stores?” or something of the sort). This way, the results are easy to understand, even if there is nothing to compare them to.

sham 24 Jul 06

I always wondered about that logic, Jeremy, just get ‘em in the store and they will buy something. I consider myself a fairly typical human, and I can hold a shopping embargo for a long time if wronged. If nothing else, it’s extremely inconsiderate, and it’s not behaviour I want to reward with my currency.

Ethan Poole 24 Jul 06

I think big businesses are fantastic at making something so simple, so complex. I am not sure why, but they seem to be the best at it.

jake 24 Jul 06

what i think’s most funny is that the greyed out stores are still bold

Justin 24 Jul 06

You’ve found another good example of bad design, and we thank you, but in this city, with an Apple Store and a CompUSA mere blocks apart — and both an easy trip by any means — why mess with a chain that’s historically been lukewarm about Macs (and just recently reintroduced them to their shelves)? Why bother checking their web site? You know what you want and where you’re likely to find it.

Scott M 24 Jul 06

I agree the bold/gray is unecessarily confusing. does a great job at this - puts a red X when a store does not have an item in stock and a green checkmark when they do. Different colors and different marks. They still list the store though so you know there is a Compusa there. Most companies do so for about the same reason that my free Backpack account has an “Images” button even though I can’t use it.

Seth Thomas Rasmussen 24 Jul 06

After giving it some thought, I’m not sure this is as counter-intuitive as it first seems.

It seems entirely possible that the information they are intending to convey is that these stores could *possibly* carry said item, but that they are currently out of stock or whatever.

If you saw your area store greyed out and not bold you would know not to think twice and move on to other options. Otherwise, you might wish to wait until your area store has it available.

--Josh 24 Jul 06

I just did the exact same search this weekend and thought the same about that screen. Very bad design.

I ended up driving up to the Apple store where they had them in stock, including the “MacBook Ultimate” with 1 gig of RAM and an 80gig drive. They also have a $100 rebate when you buy a printer along with the laptop. Not as good as the deal on Amazon, but they have them on hand and I’m typing this from it now.

FWIW, it’s an impressive machine. The case design is a masterpiece.

Lucanos 25 Jul 06

This is one of those situations where the older style of web-design would even work - breaking the list into two sections “In-Stock and Available at:” and “Also Available at:” (for places which may have backorders, etc.).

Still not 100% intuitive, but better than ringing every joint on the list to be told that you “Just missed the last one, but we have another shipment coming in tomorrow and we can hold one for you.”

reno 25 Jul 06

So funny to read you from where i live….Brussels (belgium).

Nice blog, really !



Hunox 25 Jul 06

Who buys stuff at BB anyways? It’s crap all over. Go to a small store and support the local business ;)

Phil 25 Jul 06

“Design by Programmer” strikes again!

Mrad 25 Jul 06

Wow. That’s just….sad.

gwg 25 Jul 06

1. This is some of the sort of simple obersvation that I love to see at SVN.

2. I think that the solution is as simple as a couple of h3 tags.
h3 - In Stock - /h3
We’re sorry, no local stores have the Macbook Pro… In stock.

h3 - Out of Stock - /h3
The below stores should be receiving more inventory soon.
store 1
store 2
store 3


I’m in favor of keeping the list of all stores on the screen since it’s possible that a new store (or two) has been added in my area that I may not have previously known existed.

random8r 25 Jul 06

You’re assuming availability is the only consideration.

How about proximity?


Jamie Stephens 25 Jul 06

Seth, you may very well be right. Maybe they are trying to communicate both what’s in stock and what they could potentially have in stock at the same time. For me, that just adds to the fun of it - it’s like a puzzle for their users. Maybe it’s really good design, but we just don’t know what they are trying to communicate.

Eddie 25 Jul 06

You’d want to know a couple things when you perform a search, first off, nobody like getting a “no results found” when you search, but here’s what you’d want to know:

1)Do you ( know what stores exist in my area
2)Does this store recognize that the product I’m looking for exists (ie- do they carry it)
3)Is that item in stock?

rnr 25 Jul 06

I agree with what’s being said - it’s terrible design, the use of bold versus grayed out? and not to mention that when they all have something in stock or all don’t, there’s no way to compare or truly understand what you’re seeing. However, I think they should be listing all of their stores…just better. If they don’t list all stores, then it seems a little more confusing: how do you know that they are including a certain store in your search? if you’re looking for 3 items, it’s not as clear which store will have all or most of your items. how do you know that they haven’t perhaps opened a new store? And from a marketing perspective, whether we like it or not, it is actually really important for them to make sure that you are aware of all of their store locations in your area.

But nevertheless, it’s bad design. They should list all of the stores (with phone numbers!), but have a clearer notation (2 different icons, or at least the words “Available/Unavailable”) of availability.

Wayne 25 Jul 06

The sentence that ends *… is available at the following locations* definately implies that the list only displays locations with the item in stock. They realize that most users will just ignore the small grey *Notes* and those that read the *Notes* will see the bold text and think its available.

This is purposely ambiguous. They want you to go to the store whether they have it or not.

Jough Dempsey 25 Jul 06

They should definitely show you a list of stores near your location for which they checked inventory. That way at least you know the stores that definitely do NOT have the product for which you are looking.

However, why not list?

This product is available at:
Sorry! The product is not available at any store nearby. Do you want to expand your search?

Stores near you:
City, Address, Phone
City, Address, Phone

Then you’d have a clear idea of both the stores they checked and that the product wasn’t in stock at any of them.

I find that often the store locator will grossly underestimate the closeness of stores, sending me 50 or 60 miles away elsewhere in PA when it fails to search the store in Wilmington, DE, which is only about 15 miles away.

Don Schenck 25 Jul 06

I am the world’s WORST designer … but I’m at least talented enough to NOT do something akin to this Best Buy page.

Ya know, I’m feelin’ pretty good about myself after viewing this. Ties in with my recent blog post about being tired of seeing bad decisions being made by incompetent people.

scott brooks 25 Jul 06

Being Canadian i don’t have a Best Buy but we have which is owned by Best Buy.

They too have dropped the ball on searching for products

Step one
You find the product you are interested in

Step two
Click “Check instore availibility”

Step three
Choose province

Step 4
Select Stores you wish to check (yes …you have to add each store you are interested in checking)

Step 5
Returns you to the original page with the added information …..which you need to have the pop-up legend to decipher

Step 6
I hope you dont have to try another store ….as you have to repeat. (sucks )

So it seems that even though there is a boarder between us ….bad design spans boarders.


Scott Brooks

Ryan Bergeman 25 Jul 06

I’m just kind of curious…

What is it that has you looking for a MacBook over a MacBook Pro? Is it the “less” [smaller size/lighter weight]?

Seth Thomas Rasmussen 25 Jul 06

I’m just kind of curious…

What is it that has you assuming that one would want the Pro over the “Amateur”? Also, why do you assume the 37s crew lives their lives by their business mantras?

“Jason, dear, do you want more peas?”
“AUGH! Do you know ANYTHING about what I do!? I WANT A DIVORCE.”

Maybe from the right lens, the “normal” MacBook is “more” than the Pro.

SH 25 Jul 06

Also, why do you assume the 37s crew lives their lives by their business mantras?

Obviously you’ve never met Jason.

Andy Kant 25 Jul 06


Don’t blame engineers/programmers for this. Typography is the last thing an engineer would think of when organizing data. The engineer approach to this is to just place the “available” and “unavailable” lists into separate labelled tables since that is the most logical way to do it.

JF 25 Jul 06

I have a MacBook Pro for work and I was going to get a MacBook for home. That’s it.

Jon 28 Jul 06

Its probably better that you not go to Best Buy anyway.

Their company practices, the rebate hell, the molestation at the door after buying something (OK its not really molesting but they do search your bags like everyone is a criminal), the clueless staff, their horrible return policies, restocking prices, etc have made me hate Best Buy.