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Is Argos the retailer of choice for families? PCR finds out

Interview: Argos’ Simon Barry on being the ‘second biggest tech retailer’

How is catalogue retailer Argos growing its technology offering, despite the announcement of looming store closures? Helen French chats to Simon Barry, Argos Trading Manager for Computers, Office, Mobiles and Photo to find out…

How important is the technology space to Argos?

Argos is the second biggest tech retailer in the UK. We’re huge in so many markets, number two in computing in fact. Technology is in our DNA, it’s a very important category for us.

The retail market has been pretty tough this year.

There’s no doubt about it that the retail market is really tough for everyone at the moment. Even so, we’ve been doing very well in consumer electronics. The explosion of Wi-Fi in people’s homes and the growing popularity of tablets are playing a big part in that.

For example, we’re seeing more and more people that want ‘my tablet’ instead of ‘our tablet’ – there are multiple devices going into homes now. Kids are picking them up at a younger and younger age.

We consider ourselves the leading multichannel retailer in the UK – in fact, we consider ourselves the retailer of choice for families.

The tech sector is growing quickly and we’ve done a great job of offering the best brands and full availability of products.

You can look online, click and reserve, and know the product you want is going to be in store. It’s reserved for up to 48 hours, so it gives consumers peace of mind when they might have other shopping to do before coming to us – they don’t have to worry that it will sell out.

How are other computing sectors doing at Argos – laptops, desktops, accessories, and so on?

They’re still doing very well, though there’s no doubt that the product of choice at the moment is a tablet.

What’s interesting when you look at what the manufacturers have done, is the evolution of products towards being thinner and lighter.

You only have to look at ultrabooks to see how they’re changing the way computers look.

The desirability of these products is immense, while the computing power you can get and the form factor of the products is stunning and practical.

We’re still growing, not as fast as we were, but we are. There’s still growth on tablets and in many ways it will be the Christmas of tablets this year.

We’re seeing technology converge. People are asking what makes a computer these days?

Indeed, look at the new Galaxy camera. It’s sold as a camera but it’s more like an Android phone without without the telecoms.

Look at the Kindle Fire, the Microsoft Surface. You’ve got to be able to deal with stress well in this industry because things keep changing.

How do you choose which products to stock?

We have relationships in place with all the major vendors, which means there’s virtually nothing we don’t do.

Whether we’re working with Apple or Toshiba or Sony, these brands are coming to us as the second biggest technology retailer and we’re keen for them to be showcased in our catalogue and on the web.

The buyers are looking for extra value for money and making sure we’ve got a cross section of not just specs, but colour as well – customers are increasingly looking for personalisation.

There is so much choice around – we want to help consumers find the best solution for them.I don’t want to sound patronising but sometimes we have to educate the customer as well.

We might do this through guides online, in-store and through clear and simple iconography that directs customers to where they need to go.

Are there any other particular brands or sectors aside from tablets that are shining at the moment?

Headsets are doing well of course, from Beats to 50 Cent. Fortunately we have all the major brands available.

The e-reader market is still showing strong growth too.

Do you think it’s a sustainable growth for e-readers? Won’t they just turn into tablets eventually?

I think there’s room for both. As a parent I have a real passion for e-ink and e-readers.

You don’t always want to be looking at the same kind of screen, and e-readers have less strain on the eyes. Plus if my daughter’s on a tablet I don’t know if she’s reading or playing a game, whereas with an e-reader, I do.

The e-reader sector seems quite competitive at the moment, especially with the introduction of the Nook.

Excitingly, we are one of the launch partners of the Nook. It’s different and quite exciting.

 I think e-readers are known by many as Kindles – it’s a bit like the Hoover vs. vacuum problem – and it’s good to see some healthy competition in that sector. The Kobo is doing well too. Ultimately the consumer will be the winner.

I wonder how you feel about web sites like Hot UK Deals, which is interesting because if you make a pricing mistake, for example, they’ll jump on it and get the message out.

You sometimes get that ‘oh my god’ moment. Sometimes things go wrong, it’s the nature of a complicated business. It can be difficult to deal with but that’s the way it goes. On the flip side, an offer going onto HUKD can help us clear products and we can give great deals to consumers.

Presumably you’re hoping for a good – even a great – Christmas?

We are desperately working our socks off for a fantastic Christmas. We will have great offers, a new catalogue, and we are hiring thousands of new staff for the Christmas period.

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