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Best Buy eyes healthcare as retailer’s ‘next big thing’

Best Buy is well known for bringing computers and other gadgets back to life. Now, it wants to take care of its shoppers’ health as well.

The retailer’s strategy to beef up its fledgling healthcare business will be a key focus of its investor meeting this week in New York. The plan includes selling everything from fancy fitness machines to health-monitoring services for seniors. It could help Best Buy grab some of the $3.5 trillion market for health spending—offsetting sluggishness in its main business of selling laptops, TVs and phones.

“Healthcare is overly complex, has not evolved all that much over time and remains a frequent pain point for customers. All of these factors make healthcare ripe for disruption,” says Simeon Gutman, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, who sees health-related products and services adding $11 billion to $46 billion to Best Buy’s long-term revenue. “It should be no surprise, then, that many nontraditional players, including Best Buy, are entering the industry.”

The healthcare push is an opportunity for new Chief Executive Officer Corie Barry to put her own stamp on the company and step out from the shadow cast by her predecessor Hubert Joly, who brought Best Buy back from the brink seven years ago. Barry is betting that Best Buy can thrive as digital health technology migrates from hospitals to homes, but she’ll have to move fast since the retailer is just one of many companies looking to capitalize.

“I am not saying we will own the whole healthcare experience—we don’t want to,” Barry says. “But we are uniquely well suited to be in people’s homes with technology. We can help with the tech side of health.”

Best Buy’s move into this space comes as Walmart has also stepped up its healthcare ambitions, introducing low-cost medical clinics that offer primary-care services and also mental-health counseling. Another rival, Amazon.com, paid $753 million for mail-order startup PillPack to get into the pharmacy business.

Best Buy’s focus, meanwhile, is less on flu shots and more on the technology that underpins healthcare services. It faces challenges from tech giants including Google, Microsoft and Samsung Electronics, which are typically Best Buy’s partners.

The retailer has even hired a chief medical officer to spearhead it efforts, according to an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg. Daniel Grossman, a physician and veteran of medical-product maker Medtronic who also practices at the Mayo Clinic, will join the company October 1 and report to Asheesh Saksena, the president of Best Buy Health.

In the past year or so, Best Buy has spent upwards of $1 billion on acquisitions in the health space, most notably the $800 million purchase of GreatCall, which sells mobile phones and emergency-response systems for older Americans. At the time, Joly called the senior market “white space waiting to be captured.” The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double to 95 million by 2060 from 52 million in 2018.

Best Buy followed up this year with two more deals, buying senior-focused health-services company Critical Signal Technologies as well as a small engineering group in Watertown, Mass., that designs wearable sensor systems that can help seniors live longer in their homes by predicting when they’ve fallen and need medical assistance.

The service part of the equation dovetails with Best Buy’s broader desire to expand its services revenue and lessen its dependence on products like video game consoles, where demand can fluctuate and much-hyped gadgets can flop. Services made up 6 percent of Best Buy’s U.S. revenue in its most recent quarter, up from 5 percent at the end of its last fiscal year.

“People are spending less money on stuff,” Brian Owens, an analyst at Kantar Consulting, says. “Retailers need to invest in alternative revenue streams that provide services and experiences. As you evolve into healthcare, the big opportunity is simplicity. And people trust Best Buy.”

Products will also play into the strategy. Best Buy will put Internet-connected fitness devices from brands like NordicTrack and ProForm into about 100 stores in time for the holiday shopping season. Like other retailers, it also sells fitness trackers and products like the Owlet Smart Sock, which wraps around infants’ feet and tracks their sleep patterns and heart rates.

Not everything has worked so far, however. A Best Buy pilot program called Assured Living, which aimed to outfit seniors’ homes with a complex network of smart-home gadgets and sensors that caregivers could monitor, was deemed too difficult to sell in retail stores and has been reconfigured. Best Buy will also need to find more partners, like health-insurance companies, that can help promote the retailer’s offerings to their existing customers.

Bloomberg News