The Perils of RadioShack, or Why Being a Mediocre Retailer Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

This week, RadioShack announced plans to shut 1,100 stores. This led to a slew of unpleasant headlines, even as its CEO talked about how the company would now offer a better shopping experience. But one analyst didn’t sound convinced: “They are doing everything right—just 10 years too late.… I don’t think they will be in business in a year.”

RadioShack is the closest electronics retailer to my apartment. I sometimes go there when I need something fast. The prices are usually high, and there is not a lot there. The service is okay. If you ask the salespeople what you should buy, they will give you some guidance but not a lot. One time, a salesperson sold me some headphones and then upsold me on a replacement guarantee. If these break, he said, you can get a new pair. When the object in question did, in fact, bust—within a few weeks—I went in with my receipt to get my new pair. I was then told I wasn’t actually getting my replacement right there, but a gift certificate would be emailed to me soon. It actually took about four weeks, and I never got around to using it, as it expired after a few months. Now, none of this was all that terrible. But it didn’t show me this was a store that cared about its customers.  

In the past, companies like RadioShack survived because consumers had nowhere else to go. Today, they can go online, where there is not only more selection, but the prices are sometimes better and they can get more information. In my five or six visits, RadioShack has never done anything that would convince me to come back. Its only selling point is that it’s there. 

So retailers have to ask themselves: Why should customers buy from my store and not online? If your answer is: Excellent service, better education, and an overall friendlier and more engaging experience, that’s great. But it’s something that you have to deliver consistently. 

Yesterday, I attended part of WJA’s “In the Know” conference. One speaker was Rachel Shechtman, the founder of STORY, a New York City retailer that fancies itself a “magazine” and reinvents itself every four weeks. It sounded really fascinating and different. Watching that presentation, my wife said to me, “We should go there.” Would anyone ever say that about RadioShack?

I don’t know whether STORY is the future of brick-and-mortar retail. But the current iteration of RadioShack is almost certainly the past. For years, many stores got by offering an okay experience. But today, just being good enough is no longer good enough.

JCK News Director