It was the morning before the morning of Christmas Eve and two items which came fresh across my computer screen caught my eye.  The contrast between the two captured my attention.

The first was a story announcing that Best Buy had issued a statement that the overwhelming demand for some products from had led to a problem fulfilling several online orders made in November and December, beginning with orders placed as far back as the day after Thanksgiving.  As virtually all retailers target Black Friday as retailing’s D-Day, it seemed inconceivable that Best Buy’s announcement and reluctant admission of incompetence came nearly a month after orders had been placed on this most auspicious of days on the retailer’s calendar.

The company declined to specify how many orders were affected or which products were out of stock but did admit the unfulfilled orders included some of its most popular products, a fact which made the original blunders all the more unforgivable.  The facts that the snafu was not disclosed for so long and that affected customers were not notified until just before Christmas, likely left these customers in a lurch with few options and little time to encounter true replacement gifts…unless they caught hold of my item number two.

Moments after reading of Best Buy’s ineptitude, another piece arrived at my inbox.  It was a promotional piece which had been sent very early in the morning by CompUSA.  The subject and headline stated, ’There’s Still Time:’.  The ad offered a wide variety of very current, high tech items and featured a click thru button which assured next day delivery if ordered by 3:30 PM.  The prices were tempting, the brands renowned and delivery guaranteed the day before Christmas.  What more could a late shopper want?

The offer was so well designed that it likely tempted many of those who had already finished their holiday shopping and saw an opportunity for immediate gratification on a personal gift.  This promotion, though not intentionally targeted to Best Buy customers, certainly could have served as an answer to the prayers of those shoppers affected by Best Buy’s inability to deliver popular goods over the course of a month.

A few months earlier Best Buy had announced a campaign to shrink its brick and mortar footprints, in part to focus investments to its website to better deal with the growth of competition from Internet-only retailers, local independents with a national web following and well financed discounters.  Considering Best Buy’s autumnal declaration to ratchet up its website capabilities as opposed to CompUSA’s return from near oblivion just a few years ago, it’s a wonder how these two arrived at such seemingly opposed vantage points just before Christmas day.  CompUSA’s turnaround can be largely attributed to Systemax, the savior which acquired the retailer as it faced extinction.

While Systemax initially rescued several CompUSA locations and has since methodically grown the chain, the company’s prowess in crafting a powerful, distinctive web presence for its once renowned retail acquisitions including CompUSA and the intellectual properties of Circuit Cityare clearly paying off.  Systemax’s capabilities with logistics were considerable prior to these acquisitions and now have left Best Buy in the dust.

Since Best Buy’s faux pas became public, many have raised the question as to which aspect of the incident was worse, the inability to fulfill basic and often pricey orders or the delay in communicating problems of delivery to trusting clientele.  The latter issue was greatly exacerbated as the company notified seemingly early seasonal shoppers after a long delay and dangerously close to Christmas Day.  In politics they say that often the cover-up is worse than the crime.  In this case, the delay in communication made an embarrassingly bad situation untenable.

The next big gift giving holiday on the horizon is Valentine’s Day.  A retailer like Best Buy would seem a logical venue for a supreme gift of affection.  If the company doesn’t improve its web-based capabilities significantly there could be more than a few broken hearts after Valentine’s Day.  Some may be those of company investors and executives.

How long might it be until Best Buy’s website is coined