Why the end of the Argos catalogue is a sign of success

It’s been a refreshing change to see outcry over the end of the Argos catalogue sweep the news for a day amidst the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and economic and social uncertainty. It certainly has hit a nerve - the laminated 1,000+ page book of dreams holds nostalgia in the hearts of many. I know my brother and I loved spending hours circling our dream wants in the lead up to birthdays and Christmas. It represents the excitement of shopping for families pre-online and I recall my mum actually making a trip to Argos twice a year to pick up the new catalogue as soon as it was printed and available! In fact, with the sheer number of products it stocked across so many sectors - toys, gadgets, electronics, homewear - it really was the Amazon of its time and a key signifier of trends. I even seem to recall in the days when I went to university it was the ‘go-to-place’ to get a university kitchen starter pack! Astonishingly, it was reported that at its peak, it was Europe's most widely-printed publication, with only the Bible in more homes across the UK.

Argos announced its digital transformation journey some years ago so it’s amazing that the print catalogue has lasted this long. However, despite the attachment many have to it, it’s not surprising it no longer serves the purpose it once did. And in a world where Covid-19 may exist for some time to come, it doesn’t really evoke feelings of safety when you think of the number of fingertips that have flipped through the pages.

Importantly Argos already planned for the disposal of the catalogue this year with 70% of all sales now undertaken online. The retailer understood the catalogue no longer served the functionality or convenience that it once did, and planned accordingly. We remember the emotional attachment and sadness we felt when Woolworths and Toys ‘R’ Us went into administration but it wasn’t enough to make us shop there again and it was too little too late for them to try and adapt.

Argos has worked for years to maintain that meaning and emotional connection with consumers and back in 2016, Argos made the decision to sell to Sainsbury’s. This was a positive move that has seen the brand stay accessible, offering convenience for customers of both brands and more visibility for Argos. It also allowed Sainsbury’s to sell its clothing line Tu online via the Argos platform. We are regularly asked to help companies maximise digital tools in the most effective way and we are big advocates in looking at strategic partnerships that can benefit both parties and share resources, particularly fusing digital and physical elements of the customer journey.

The important thing now is for Argos to continue proactively looking at ways it can add more value to the customer experience rather than waiting to react to market changes; a common mistake made by other heritage brands. Argos is in a position where it has a rich relationship with different generations and can continue developing that. New shoppers may never know life buying from an Argos catalogue and filling in the slip of paper to hand to the cashier, but can still experience a brand that puts them first and goes that extra step to ensure they leave satisfied.

Argos is in a unique position to take on Amazon almost head-to-head. Where you can get same-day delivery on some items on Amazon, Argos can guarantee you can get your hands on pretty much anything if it’s in store that day, be it a last-minute paddling pool on the unexpected hottest day of the year or a replacement suitcase for the one that just broke. Argos will need to really invest heavily in the online experience to make it as simple and easy as possible, think more strategically about personalisation and how they can leverage that more effectively as well as delighting customers with an ever improving product range.

The advice for other retailers? Take note. This announcement is far from a sign of failure, rather it’s a sign of positive change and an acceptance of how the shopping experience continues to develop. Those clinging to the idea that things will go back to normal will not fare well - although they can enjoy this clever site developed by Argos that allows you to pursue all the catalogues starting from 1975. Remember that hostess trolley?

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