Commentary

Senior-Focused GreatCall Takes The Call From Best Buy

Best Buy is shelling out $800 million in cash for GreatCall, a San Diego-based company that sells mobile phones tailored to the booming 65-and-older crowd, as well as "connected health services" such as call centers that assist folks who press a dedicated key. The phones are designed with big buttons and bright screens, and their features are easy to understand.

“The acquisition may not seem like a natural fit for a retailer of TVs and computer gear. Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly explained by saying, ‘Technology can improve the quality of life of the aging population,’ and that Best Buy is positioned to help given ‘our experience with technology and serving customers in their home,’” writes Kevin Kelleher for Fortune.

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“In other words, many of the customers who seek help from Best Buy’s Geek Squad are also seniors who have difficulty setting up and maintaining home computers and Internet-connected appliances. GreatCall not only gives Best Buy more services to sell them, it offers the Geek Squad a broader customer base to reach out to,” Kelleher observes.

Best Buy’s acquisition is also “part of an effort to increase investments in technology that addresses the needs of older people” that’s outlined in its “Best Buy 2020: Building the New Blue” growth strategy, writes Robert Barba for the Wall Street Journal

One of the key provisions of that transformation plan, which was released last September, is a pilot of the Best Buy Assured Living plan that “uses technology to … create peace of mind for the children while allowing the parents to live and thrive independently.”

Best Buy’s news release announcing the deal points out that “there are approximately 50 million Americans over age 65, a number that is expected to increase by more than 50% within the next 20 years.”

GreatCall CEO David Inns, who has been with the company since 2006, its first year, will remain. He said it is profitable, with more than $300 million of annual revenue.

“GreatCall is perhaps best known for its easy-to-use Jitterbug phones, which the company's sold for over a decade, but it also provides connected health and urgent care services. The company says it currently has over 900,000 paying subscribers,” writes Sean Hollister for CNET.

A 2012 CNET review of the Samsung flip phone that Hollister links to gives it an overall 6.7 rating on a scale of 1-10. Writes reviewer Lynn La: “The Good: The Jitterbug Plus has reliable call quality, a huge keypad for easy typing, and a friendly user interface. The Bad: The Plus’ camera is poor, there's no way to mute keypad tones, the calendar UI is tedious, and the health service fees are expensive.”

The Jitterbug Flip is still available in two colors -- red and graphite -- and it has a “five star button on the keypad” that “turns the Jitterbug into a personal safety device,” according to a :60 spot featuring one of those actors who you know you should know but can’t put a name to. Press that button and you are “immediately connected to a highly trained agent who can confirm your location, assess the situation and get you the help you need.” 

Perhaps even more intriguing for those with no addiction to their Twitter feeds or video steaming on their iPhone Plusses: Plans start at $14.99 a month for 200 minutes of call time (plus “taxes and fees,” of course). You can get 300 texts a month for $3 more.

But there’s also a “simple” smartphone available for $149 now, too, that features “brain games” among its home screen offerings.

“In June 2017, GreatCall was acquired by Chicago private equity firm GTCR for an undisclosed price. Inns continued at the helm of the company in partnership with GTCR,” writes Mike Freeman for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“In an interview, GTCR Managing Director David Donnini said GreatCall was not for sale, but Best Buy ‘reached out to us proactively and really stayed after it until we came to an agreement everyone was happy with,’” Freeman continues. 

“‘For Best Buy, I think they have been doing some strategic work and decided senior services and products are going to be core for them going forward,’ added Donnini. ‘They looked at a lot of different companies around the industry, and I think rightly came to the conclusion that GreatCall was the best platform for them to launch this effort.’”

Modern Healthcare’s Rachel Z. Arndt points out that “other retailers --mostly pharmacy chains -- have been trying to get their consumers to use more healthcare services too. Walgreens recently launc hed a tool for people to find local providers, and CVS Health just launched a telehealth offering.”

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