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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.

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