I miss CompUSA

08 Feb

I was reading Brent Leary’s posting Christmas 2011: a Great Example of Smarter Commerce in Action | SmartData Collective tonight and it got me thinking.

I remember going retail shopping with the only motivation being to find something cool to own and bring home.

I don’t do that anymore.

I suspect there are a lot of reasons: I’m older and more careful with the family coffers.  I’ve got all the stuff I need.  But honestly, I think it all boils down to this:

Retail outlets, because of their reduced SKUs (stock keeping units), have less interesting stuff for me to buy. There is less variety in the stores.

And I think this is a vicious cycle that is eating retail.  Retailers, with the high cost of distributed inventory, reduce the number of SKUs to only those items with the most mass-appeal. People go to the stores, can’t find what they are looking for, go home, get on the web and buy it.

And web retailers are getting much better at fulfillment:

  • shipping is increasingly free: 93% for this past Christmas vs. 85% for the season before (let’s be real: it is built into the price) (see USA Today article quoted by Brent)
  • shipping is increasingly fast

Let’s dwell on the last bullet.  My younger son had a small fender-bender with one of the family vehicles requiring a turn signal lens to be replaced.  On Friday, I placed an order with, with normal, non-expedited shipping.  I received the lens on Monday.

I miss CompUSA (the retailer not the current web store).  Toward the end of CompUSA’s retail existence it was awful, but there was a point that they had a wide variety of SKUs and I could always walk out with something I needed but didn’t go in to buy.

Microcenter, the closest of which is over two hours away in Boston, is still like the old CompUSA somewhat. That being said, the last time I was in one, I was disappointed that they, too, had cut back on the SKUs.  I haven’t been to a Fry’s for a while, but suspect it is the same story there, too.

For a reality check, have a look at this article in the NY Times about the problem of malls.

Short of Star Trek transporters or replicators, I’m not sure what the answer is to change this transformation.  One thing that I wonder is whether there is a point when the current just-in-time mass-appeal SKU/local inventory system breaks because of the cost of fuel for 18 wheelers.  One could imagine a point where it is actually makes sense to spend less money on fuel by having very full trucks of goods go to retail stores and create larger local inventories that have to be replenished less often.

I wonder, also, about the fabric of society that shops local retail less.  Is that a good thing?

If you’ve got some opinions on this, I’d love to hear from you by way of comment.

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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in business model, internet, retail


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