• The coronavirus impact continues to be felt far and wide around the US, with industries, governments, and everyday Americans having to dramatically change their daily routines to accommodate the reality of the COVID-19 virus. 
  • Because of operational changes stemming from the virus, buying a new MacBook Air this weekend at Best Buy was necessarily a much different experience than anything I’ve previously experienced from the electronics chain. 
  • It was the latest reminder that the coronavirus pandemic has cast a long shadow over just about every aspect of daily life in the US.

I had to buy a replacement for my MacBook Air this weekend, the kind of thing that would require a pretty simple transaction during normal times — but which, it should go without saying, is far easier said than done right now as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The experience, overall, was less onerous than I thought it would be, but it was nevertheless unusual enough to remind anyone who’s forgotten that we are still living in a strange and extraordinary time.

For starters, there’s only one Apple store here in the Memphis area where I live, and a visit there was out of the question. Even though a number of Apple stores have started reopening around the country, the store here wasn’t among them. What I ended up choosing instead was a visit to a Best Buy near my apartment, given that I saw this particular store had a few MacBooks in stock and in my price range. I knew, as a result of seeing headlines like this one, that the experience here would be a bit different because of the coronavirus — you know, the pandemic that people seem to be trying to ignore now instead of comporting themselves like the continuing threat that it is — and it’s with that in mind that I’d like to share a bit about what greeted me at this Best Buy location almost as soon as I got out of my car.

To begin with, there was a line of customers (socially distanced from each other, of course) stretching from the front door of the store and snaking down the length of the front of the building. Some were wearing face masks, and some weren’t (I wore one).

I waited in a line for about 10-15 minutes, total, which wasn’t too bad even though the heat had topped 90 degrees. A Best Buy employee kept appearing and would interact with people near the front of the line before disappearing back into the store. Once you got close to the front yourself, he would come up to you and ask what he can do for you.

If you were there to check out, say, appliances, you were out of luck, unfortunately. You would need to make an appointment to come back (it didn’t sound like any slots were left open on this day), and at that point, you could be escorted inside the store by an employee. Once this employee got to me, I told him I needed a MacBook, so he pulled out his phone to check and see what models were in stock inside, at which point we then went back and forth before I settled on a particular model. He went inside to retrieve the MacBook I’d picked out, while I kept my place in line.

Customers ahead of me in line kept moving up, until I was eventually at the very front — and now I could see that a cash register had been pushed right up to one of the closed front doors of the store. There was an open space so that you could kind of stick your head down and talk to the employee manning that register. It was sort of like driving up to the cashier at a fast-food restaurant. They know your order by the time you get to the window, only in this case I’m walking up and I wasn’t asking for my burger and fries but, rather, the MacBook I’d asked the employee to go back inside and retrieve.

The employee who was manning the cash register (wearing a face mask, naturally) turned around and picked up the package containing my laptop that someone had already set behind him. I paid for it, and he leaned over the register and pushed it through the open space in the door that I mentioned.

I note that, in addition to the walk-ups like me who’d been waiting in line, there was also a line of cars stretching along the opposite side of the building. Those other customers had arranged for curbside pickup of their orders, resulting in interactions which looked like this:

coronavirus impact
Best Buy customers drive up to have curbside orders fulfilled. Image source: Jim Mone/AP/Shutterstock

All in all, I was pleased I was able to take care of this transaction this weekend, and the inconveniences weren’t as annoying as I thought they could have been. As soon as I got home, though, I laughed when I learned the following:

If I’d have just waited a few days, I might not have had to deal with all this at all. Starting on Monday, according to Best Buy, “more than 800 locations across the country will begin allowing a limited number of people inside.” The chain will be rigorously enforcing social distancing inside, of course, but at least you’ll be able to wander the air-conditioned aisles once again and stock back up on whatever electronic gadgets you might need. Just like old times.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.