What Best Buy’s $800 million cash purchase of GreatCall connected health/PERS really means

Have health and connectedness services for older people finally made it out of the pumpkin and to the ball? GreatCall’s market doesn’t make for great cocktail party buzz or TEDMED talks. It’s emergency response with Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek presenting 5 Star emergency service bundled in a Jitterbug flip or smartphone (made by others). It’s made intelligent acquisitions. taking some of the tech developed by Lively to develop wearables that are quite presentable and by Healthsense for the senior living market. It’s been a leader in how to make both traditional direct marketing (DRTV, print) and digital work for an older market. Somehow, it’s managed to accumulate over 900,000 paying customers, which proved to be very attractive to first PE firm GTCR and now Minneapolis-based Best Buy, which with GreatCall has made its Biggest Buy.

GreatCall will remain a separate division with the same CEO (David Inns, with them since their 2006 founding) and remain HQ’d in San Diego. The transaction is expected to close by end of the third quarter of Best Buy’s fiscal 2019, subject to regulatory approvals.

Best Buy in the US has remained the #1 electronics ‘big box’ store that, like most retail, has stumbled about and come back from the brink. Their purchase of GreatCall, a partner for many years, reinforces a strategy they’ve worked on for a while in featuring health and wellness-related products to what CNBC calls ‘an aging population’ as part of ‘solving technology problems and addressing key human needs across a range of areas.’ GreatCall, as noted above, has a superb track record in direct marketing to that group. (In this context, the former Healthsense B2B play is limited–some of the feedback that this Editor’s received is that GreatCall stumbled out of the gate with Healthsense customers with a lack of understanding of the LTC/senior housing market dynamics. Long term, it seems out of phase with Best Buy’s direction in a way that consumer-oriented Lively is not.)

Will that talent spill over to and influence the rest of Best Buy’s business? Will Best Buy successfully carve out a niche which is relatively resistant to the predations of Amazon (which also sells a lot of health tech) and other online retailers? Is this niche big enough to support this Big Box Retailer? Seeking Alpha, press release, Mobihealthnews

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