One down; how many to go?

Circuit City Out of Business

Conrad Weisert
© Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago -- 16 January, 2009

NOTE: This document may be circulated or quoted from freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.

The failure of the huge Circuit City chain of electronics stores came as no surprise to anyone who has shopped there recently. A week ago I bought a new Samsung monitor there ($160), and I practically had to beg the salespeople to sell it to me.

Although I was one of only three customers in the huge store, I was ignored for over 20 minutes. The young man who appeared to be serving the computer department was on the telephone the whole time. I didn't get close enough to learn whether his conversation was personal or business related, but in either case he could see a customer waiting in plain sight and should have ended the conversation.

I finally flagged down another salesperson, who knew nothing about the merchandise. I had already narrowed my choices to three monitors, but he couldn't explain the differences among them or find anyone who could.

Every one of the monitors on display was displaying the same image, an advertisement consisting of large areas of solid black and bright green. I asked if I could see something with more detail in order to judge the image quality. That was not possible, he replied, as if I were the first person who had ever made such a strange request.

Why didn't I just leave then and go somewhere else? Well, it was a bitterly cold day, and I wasn't eager to be outdoors any more than necessary. Besides, I thought Circuit City's price was attractive and I was unlikely to do better elsewhere.

Nor did that salesman know which monitors were actually in stock and, if so, where they were.

Addendum—March 9

The final days

Yesterday was the final day for Circuit City's failed stores. You could buy the fixtures, if the price was right. They left our communities with an inventory of vacant ugly buildings unsuited to other functions.

Local options

Former customers are shifting their attention and often their shopping loyalty to the very similar Best Buy1 chain, but those of us in major cities don't have to. In Chicago, we have have the option of shopping for appliances and electronics at locally-owned Abt, a fine old retailer with comparable prices, a cheerful store, and employees who are (mostly) more knowledgeable and more polite than those we encounter in the "big box" chains. Presumably other big cities have similar enterprises.

Similarly, when Chicagoans need hardware or lumber, we can patronize the regional Menard's or our neighborhood hardware store instead of the giant international firm.

1—Home of the insultingly named Geek Squad.

A third salesperson (the first was still on the phone) finally helped us search through the stock on shelves high above the displays. We found, in the wrong place, two of my first choice. She wrote up the sale, trying to sell me a service contract.

I left with my new monitor, resolving never to patronize Circuit City again. Now I don't have to make that choice.

The Circuit City experience is all too typical of modern retailing. No wonder more and more people are making major purchases through the Internet.

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