A catalogue of disaster?

Argos is to stop printing its iconic catalogue after nearly 50 years but is this a backwards step for customer experience?

Flipping through the Argos catalogue at Christmas is, for many British families, a rite of passage. The browsing experience complete with circling items and building a wish list was considered a vital festive season ritual.

However, citing the “greater convenience” of online shopping, the company will stop printing its paper tome this year, although a Christmas gift guide will continue to be printed. As an indication of how seismic this decision is, the catalogue is held in such esteem that a dedicated online archive of issues dating back to the brand’s launch in 1973 exists online for aficionados to browse and reminisce.

While cutting the catalogue will no doubt save the company in terms of printing and distribution costs, the decision may come at the expense of vital customer experience. The pandemic has given retailers a stark lesson in what it means to translate the in-store shopping experience online.

Pre-COVID, there was already some hand-wringing as to what the demarcation was between in-store and online versions of the same store – how to define the difference in experience? The pandemic has helped clarify matters. Online, the experience is largely functional. Consumers buy online. In contrast, they shop in-store.

With the plethora of goods available online, navigating the range is difficult without some form of curation. This is why customers buy. They come online with a very strong idea of what it is they need and narrow down their choices needing only a few criteria – different brands or price points. The online environment has not been conducive to shopping, where people are unsure of what they want, if they want anything. Browsing is not generally a comfortable experience.

If Argos is to lose the customer catalogue, it will have to do so with one eye on what might replace it online. Bald product shots and menus arranged by category or review rating won’t cut it. Without building in that ‘catalogue of dreams’ that allows for virtual circling and online daydreaming, Argos’ online experience risks becoming a digital version of its stores, little more than housed inventory, ready to click and collect.

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