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Kill off the catalogue Argos; You should have been an ‘Amazon’ to me — you still could be!


I’ve spent a lot with Argos over the years, mostly as a student and then when I still lived in London, I used the Camden branch to buy a lot of necessary nonsense for the apartment. I distinctly remember lugging a flipping ironing board along Euston Road one Sunday afternoon.

I really liked the Argos way of doing things. That is, the ability to query the stock level prior to ordering. I liked the idea of being able to make my choices first and then place the order at the till, rather than the other way around. British customer service people traditionally don’t tend to react very well to actually serving customers. So I always found it a lot more rewarding to be able to specify precisely what I wanted and know that it was in stock.

There is nothing worse than trying to buy something — like a kettle or an ironing board — and being told that the one you want ‘isn’t in stock’.

“What do you have in stock then?” I remember asking countless times in countless stupid shops over the years.

“Well, what one do you want and I will check?” usually came the refrain. Although the agent was almost guaranteed to not want to bother having to check.

“Well why don’t you tell me which ones you have in stock?” I would ask. And they wouldn’t know.

So I’d have to pick some product and wait whilst the agent trudges off annoyed and returns empty handed.

“We don’t have that one, sorry.”

And repeat.

So I do like Argos.

In recent times I have been thoroughly impressed with their mobile application and particularly their ability to instantly query stock levels from it. Now and again I have almost bought an iPad (or similar) from Argos via the mobile app. I say “almost” because they never quite seemed to catch on to people like me, who want stuff NOW. A company with such hugely impressive logistics capabilities seriously could have dominated my world. I have been particularly impressed at their partnership with Shutl that would, in many cases, deliver items within 60 minutes during the day.

Good.. but.

It was — it is — thoroughly half hearted. They couldn’t be bothered to change their ordering system. Instead they opted to implement a 5-step rubbishy process for Shutl. You had to ‘reserve’ the item and then select the Shutl option to be able to get it that way. The fact that the 60-minute delivery option is more or less COMPLETELY hidden demonstrates how stupid the executives are who run Argos. Why didn’t they go the whole way? Why didn’t they implement Shutl for every single order? Why isn’t Shutl a default offering right there at the top of the order process stack? Why didn’t Argos go to market telling you that they will deliver anything within 60 minutes, anywhere (with a few sensible exceptions if you live in the arse end of nowhere or items are out of stock)?

Need a set of pens for the children? Argos it — and get them in 60 minutes anywhere in the UK.

Need an ironing board? Done. 60 minutes, anywhere in the UK.

Want some wine glasses for tonight’s dinner? Sorted. Click and you’re done, delivered in 60 minutes.

Need some cushions for the new sofa and want them now? Click. Done. They’ll arrive in an hour.

Did you forget your mum’s birthday? Don’t worry. Argos something and boom, it’ll be with you in 60 minutes.

Want a set of scales? Have a look at Amazon by all means, but Argos will have it to you for 5pm (rather than tomorrow morning with Amazon).

The awesome range of actually rather useful products offered by Argos is being steadily replicated by Amazon to the point that — well, I haven’t bothered ever looking at Argos for about two years now. I think I used to have their app on my phone a while ago.

It’s not all about same day delivery of course. It’s about branding, it’s about consumer mindset and so on. Argos still does a ton of business in the UK with a huge loyal following.

But news that they’re beginning to dump their physical catalogue (the main way of consumer Argos for decades) hints at the way ahead. (Graham over at The Telegraph reports.) The new world is Amazon. Argos is old, unwieldy and horrifically British. (By that I mean that clearly, the company is composed of senior executives who, by and large, don’t have a flipping clue about the way ahead.)

How shit is Argos nowadays? I’ll tell you. Recently I went to Bracknell. It’s the nearest reasonably sized town with a shopping centre. There’s a Vodafone store there so I often pop in. My wife likes the Bentals shop and my eldest son Archie simply lives for the escalators in the shopping centre. He loves going up and down them and then operating the car parking ticket machine. On one particular day I drove up to the main multi-storey car park in Bracknell and standing by both barriers were some embarrassed looking Argos employees.

Both of them were standing next to the ticket dispensing machine by the barrier. I opened my window in readiness to take the ticket and the chap thrust an Argos catalogue in through the window.

I thought of declining it.

But then I thought of the absolute numpty that had authorised and instructed this procedure. Force feeding catalogues as folk drive into the car park? Has it got THAT bad? Is it THAT difficult nowadays to get consumers to take catalogues from the store? Yeah. It is. Nobody wants to bother carrying a heavy thing like that nowadays. I suspect this is one of the justifications for having the two poor chaps standing in the cold thrusting catalogues through opening car door windows.


I was really shocked at the clear desperation. There’s certainly an aspect that justifies this approach as a thoroughly efficient way of getting rid of catalogues. How many folk drove in that day to the car park? 500? 1,000? If the chaps managed to shift 800 catalogues through car windows that will have made the store manager look a bit good at his or her regional gathering.

I took the catalogue because I felt sorry. I thought taking the catalogue and dumping it into our recycling bin when I got home was the least I could do considering these chaps were standing in the cold, embarrassed.

My wife was not impressed. She felt I should have shoved the catalogue back out the window and politely declined. She was annoyed at the imposition.

I think it would have been different if the catalogue was offered. You know, if the chaps were standing back and simply ‘offering’ one. Or if they chose to position themselves at the entrance to the elevators (“lifts”) for all those returning to their cars. That might have been different.

I did have to smile though.

If you’re on the board at Argos or if you’re one of the senior executives charged with marketing, shame on you. Utter shame on you. THRUSTING FLIPPING CATALOGUES THROUGH CAR WINDOWS? Geez.

And if you’re anywhere near responsible for the on-going strategy of Argos, let me say this: It’s time to innovate dramatically.


  1. A very good read Ewan, you are also completely correct that a pervasive same day delivery would not only make Argos competitive, but perhaps completely paradigm shift our expectations of internet shopping. The first company to crack same day delivery is going to be huge and one would hope that the population density of the uk would allow it to happen here.

    Anything that can keep us away from depressing high streets is a good thing

  2. Stu, I agree 100% Argos could do better, but disagree 100% that “anything that can keep us away from … high streets is a good thing”. I bet loads of people go into Currys etc, fondle the kit, then nip out to Argos or Amazon to complete. There’s a ton of reasons this is a crap long-term outcome for society.

  3. The killer card for Argos for me is still the ability to want something and have it in your hands in (let’s say) 10 minutes. That’s the Argos USP for me. Closing 75 stores works against that model, evidently. And I like the way the Argos app allows you to reserve on mobile (in the shop, if you want), and benefit from discounts/offers not available in store itself. You can then choose to collect immediately in-store, walzing to the cash till feeling smug that you get your % off the catalogue price.

  4. Exactly. You’d have thought that the stores could actually function as ultra-mini warehouses to help them distribute in a highly effective manner.
    I mean… what would it take to stick a bloke on a moped at every store, ready to deliver anywhere within a 10 mile radius for a fiver? 😉

  5. Was more an off the cuff comment. But I must admit that I find the high street a thoroughly depressing strip of unpleasant shopping environments and failing business models. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t celebrate a revival in the high street’s fortunes.

    Although I have criticised some of Apple’s products, the “show room” approach of it’s stores and it being one of the few mainstream examples where a customer can have face to face customer service interaction with the manufacturer is certainly something to be to celebrated, and something that justifies bricks and mortor, but this is very much a diamond in the rough

  6. It does smack of desperation if they’re shoving catalogues through your car windows, but I was equally surprised when Lovefilm came knocking on my door (male and female double act) to try and sign me up. They clearly hadn’t researched that I already have an account, but only for the streaming service. So they tried to up sell me to the ‘by post’ subscription. Which is crazy; films streamed instantly (albeit not every title yet) or waiting for the post and having to post back. So, even Amazon hadn’t quite sussed things out – unless it can post a film within the hour, and possibly bring a pizza with it at the same time!

  7. The high street paradigm is an anachronism, as is the practice of the daily commute. Retail companies with good distribution networks and the ability to manage decentralised workers should be poised to take advantage of the new business models that the Internet and other communication technologies make possible.


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