As I child, I remember thoughts at this time of year turn to what you would like at Christmas. For inspiration there was one all encompassing source, the
catalogue. Argos first introduced its
hefty tome in 1973 and at its peak 20 million copies of the biannual
publication were printed. This is now set to change as part of a £300 million
modernisation plan announced by its new CEO John Walden. Argos
The announcement covers a five year plan involving spending £100 million in each of the next three years with an aim to increase sales from £3.4 billion to £4.5 billion by 2018. The plan is wide ranging and includes the closure of 50 stores and the relocation of 25 more as leases expire over the next five years. The stores themselves will change as well. The focus will still be on having a strong retail presence but used more as collection hubs and for customer service. Customers will be driven to using mobile devices and in-store wi-fi to order online instead of the laminated catalogues and little pens and paying in store after queuing up.
So from a sales point of view I completely see why they are doing this and reacting to the change in customer activity. They will no doubt continue to innovate online and invest in digital channels and grow both the revenues and profits because of that strategic belief and investment. However I have a nagging worry from a branding point of view.
The new CEO has said it would be ‘foolish’ to pull the main catalogue now as 85% of customers still use it before buying. But he also admitted that it may decline ‘precipitously’ as sales shift online. Some commentators have said that it helps it move away from the risk of being seen outdated but I think that’s naive. The catalogue is, I’m sure, expensive and a pain to produce. Its place in our homes though is branding most retailers would kill for.
In the next few weeks you will all be inundated with glossy mags from supermarkets and other brands trying to get mindshare and table space. The
catalogue sits as a reminder of its
place as a warehouse of everything you might need. If they stop the catalogue
all together that little, albeit very weighty, reminder in your homes goes and
then they have to rely on planned media campaigns and people walking past the
stores to get them to use them. Argos
has already proved itself as a digital pioneer and leading e-commerce offering
with incredible and growing online sales. I hope it continues though to think
of its catalogue as part of its distribution and marketing mix and not part of
an outdated history without benefit. Argos
Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing at Archant follow him on twitter @timyoungman