Argos, you could do it so much better

Argos, you could do it so much better

Argos. Clearly doing well as the UK's most popular 'catalogue showroom retailing' store in the UK. More than 700 stores, 130m customers and £4.3b in sales in 2008 isn't bad. They also take 26% of their sales online, aided by an Argos catalogue found in 18m households across the country. Not bad for a chain who relies on a strictly 'self-serve' philosophy that doubles as a business model... but they could do it so much better.

Having just moved flats, I've probably done the 'Argos dance' more times in the past 3 months than I care to mention. You know - the one where you:

So what's the problem?

There's a weak link in the process above - did you notice it? It's an expensive, cumbersome, and card-carrying member of a dying breed. No, I'm not talking about the tannoy system. Its the printed catalogue that Argos prides itself on. The huge, bulky book that Argos boasts is in more than 18m households throughout the UK.

Argos launch this behemoth twice a year. That's 36m catalogues up front, not to mention the number of books used in-store, or made available year-round, or the ones left in the rubbish bins after being shoved into the arms of passers-by on the high street on sunny Sundays. The costs associated with the printing of these catalogues must be astronomical (regardless of where the printing's outsourced to), not to mention the negative impact on the environment. Why bother using a printed catalogue at all? Aren't we in the digital age?

Googleize it

Currently the physical Argos user experience is pretty easy, but it could (and should) be so much better. At the moment there are way too many components. Just as an ecommerce website is made to be intuitive and as simple as possible to drive revenue, the same principles apply to the real-world version: streamline your user's experience and you stand to make more revenue. Google, as we know, does this with ease. Although they have access to the entire world's online information, they never fail to offer a solitary search bar to remove all uncertainties, ambiguities and alternative choices for the user. All the user can do is search, which is what they came to do. The same applies to an Argos customer. The only reason they're in-store is to browse, locate, buy and pick-up a product. It shouldn't be so cumbersome.

What's important to mention here is that Argos already take a quarter of all sales through their online channel. The effort required for that involves making available an entire database of items, able to be cross-referenced with stores across the UK to check for local availability. That's a mammoth task, considering the sheer size of the Argos catalogue 18m households know so well. So, if there was a hard part to making the Argos in-store experience better, it seems to be done (quite well) already. If every Argos product is alraedy indexed and updated for use on the websites, why doesn't Argos pull that experience in-store as well?

Upgrade

So, let's catapult the Argos in-store user experience to the 21st century, Make it simpler, faster, more efficient and infinitely better than it is now by (ironically) applying the existing online experience to the real-world store.

Some first steps:

The initial benefits

Coming from a marketing angle, the most dramatic benefit to Argos would be a substantial increase to their registrant database with rich transaction-based customer profiles. Taking a page from Amazon's book, this data would be used to create targeted and relevant, behaviour-based messages to recent customers.

Some other possible benefits:

I'm not denying the several unaddressed issues with this idea like switching from print to electronic, the massive infrastructure required, system maintenance, server downtime, etc., but in the interest of providing a better, faster user experience to an already successful business model, there's potential. And if nothing else, it stands to be better for the environment, which I'm sure will be affecting Argos more in the near future as more companies go digital.