By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
Shoppers certainly are busy on Black Friday. Retail sales staff, too.
And then there are the store employees whose job description calls for them to set up, explain and, if necessary, maintain or repair any of the numerous electronic thingamabobs just purchased on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Best Buy calls those employees its Geek Squad, some 20,000 people at hundreds of stores nationwide who were hired for their technical expertise with computers, mobile phones and other electronics. The Geek Squad employees, also called “agents,” had their hands full as the Christmas holiday shopping season officially kicked off the day after Thanksgiving.
Sergio Lopez walked into the Best Buy store on Howe Avenue in Cuyahoga Falls on Friday to get a heavily discounted laptop computer for $229. Thing is, the laptop was installed with an operating system that the 55-year-old Lopez had no experience with.
But the Akron resident left happy after one of 15 Geek Squad employees working the store on Friday walked him through the operating system after updating the laptop’s software and antivirus program.
“This really looked easy. It will be an exciting toy,” Lopez said. “A gift for me.”
Geek Squad supervisor Jessica Butler — her official title is “Deputy of Counter Intelligence” — said many of her co-workers on Black Friday were needed out on the sales floor to answer questions for customers.
“A lot of people are coming in for tablets, computers and cellphones,” the 26-year-old Butler said. “Everybody here right now is pretty much here for computers.”
Bob Lewis, district service manager for the Geek Squad’s Northeast Ohio region, said Geek Squad agents help customers with “techno stress” by doing such things as setting up Bluetooth connections between cars and smartphones.
“Some products are really easy to fix. Some products don’t like to communicate with others,” Lewis said.
Customers often don’t realize that when they purchase an item such as the new PlayStation 4 or even a Blu-ray disc player, the devices may need an immediate “firmware” update over the Internet to work properly when they are turned on for the first time, Lewis said. Geek Squad agents either field phone calls from customers and tell them how to do the update or do the work in the store before it leaves with its new owner.
“We actually offer the set-up as a free service,” said Alex Bell, 27, of Cuyahoga Falls, who has been a Geek Squad agent for more than four years. Bell is getting a computer information systems degree from the University of Akron.
A lot of their work involves properly setting up computers for customers who may not know how to do it themselves or who don’t have the time to do it, Bell said. He and his co-workers also walk customers through such things as how to use the new Windows 8 operating system.
While some people might assume that older folks are the ones having the most issues with the newest electronics, that isn’t necessarily the case, Bell said. He said he probably helps as many people in their teens and 20s as those age 50 or older.
Sometimes new devices and designs throw people for a loop, Bell said.
He recalled one customer purchasing a so-called “all-in-one” computer, thinking it would have a separate monitor, keyboard, mouse and box holding the processing unit, disk drive and other components. When the customer got home, the box contained only the monitor, keyboard and mouse, he said.
“They asked, where is the rest of the computer?” Bell said. He had to explain that the computer and disk drive were built into the large monitor — the system was all there.
Bell said he enjoys it when people understand the new technology after he talks with them. “I like it when the light bulb goes on,” he said.
As busy as Black Friday was, it will be even busier for the Geek Squad in the near future, Bell said.
“Our real crazy time is the week after Christmas,” Bell said. That’s when people need help with all of the gadgets they got as gifts.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.