Store-ies: Argos Edition

As I kid, distinctly remember going to the very small Sears catalog store where they had 4 extremely thick Sears & Roebuck catalogs on a giant library-esque counter with a lady standing behind it wearing one of those ornate stringy-things to hold her glasses around her neck. Nothing else in the store except a few random items like a lawn mower and a BBQ and these catalogs. And while Mom would dig through the catalog looking for Toughskin jeans for me and calling out random bits of information to the lady like page number and item number, I dug through the toy section in the catalog on the end, making a mental Santa list. Little did I know the same thing existed in England at a store called Argos. 

Over lunch one day, I told a London colleague I needed to pick up some “stuff.” Just general merchandise stuff. His response, “Did you check out Argos?” No, of course not or I wouldn’t be writing this article. It was nearby so we walked in during lunch. All I could see were rows of iPads in special holders on several counters (reminiscent of the ones the Sears catalogs laid on). We walked over to one and he starts to show me how to navigate it. Up until recently Argos had the same catalog model Sears did where you looked up what you wanted in big, thick books wrote down the item numbers on scraps of paper with dull pencils and they’d order it for you. But recently they’d renovated prototype stores that brought their website in store via iPads with simple modifications that connected your iPad to the register at front. I was enamored, I had to try it out.

Just like the good ol’ days of Sears, but with much better user interface, I searched “large carry-all” (the British word for duffle bag) and more than 20 choices popped up. I organized by price, ala eBay, and looked at the details on the 4 cheapest ones. One had wheels, done. I hit the purchase button and it told me it was in stock. Then it prompted for a code, I typed in the clever “Dan Duffle”. And it gave me the option to pay at the nearby kiosk or at one of the 4 registers (or tills). I approach an open register, the lady asked me for my code word and payment, I gave her both. Literally 1 minute later, an employee behind some see through shelving, flops a large blue duffle bag on one of the lower shelves, the lady at the register checks the number, and hands me the bag. The whole thing took 8 minutes, tops.

Now, I may just be a shopper marketing nerd or sat through one too many Walmart merchant meetings but this was… awesome. I kid you not, I talked about it all day. I imagined what was behind those shelves and that separating wall. Was it like Willy Wonka land or even better, automated Amazon. The idea of maximized floor space and neat organization and automated search, blew my mind. And the shopping experience was so EASY and fast, no searching all over a 250,000 sq ft store for where the luggage might be and then rifling through shelves of backpack and briefcase and roller bags. It was like shopping at Amazon in real time. 

Now you may be screaming at your computer right now that there’s something just like this in New York or Chicago but I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it and instead of trying to figure out how to win the on-line shopping wars, I say open a brick and mortar on-line store. Best shopping experience of my whole time in London.


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