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Will you miss the Argos catalogue?

Argos will no longer be printing its catalogue after nearly 50 years in production

After nearly half a century, Argos has announced it will no longer produce physical copies of its catalogue. Is it something you’ll miss, or something you can do without?

It’s the end of an era: Argos has announced that it will no longer produce the physical edition of its catalogues.  

This means, apart from physical Christmas gift guides distributed in store, the only way to browse the catalogue will be via the internet.

Given so much of our shopping has gone online though (even before the pandemic), were you still using the physical catalogue?

The joy of browsing

There can be a certain joy in having a physical catalogue. It runs closer to the experience of browsing in store: you can see the scope of what’s available and discover objects you’ve never known existed.  

Being around for so long generations have grown up using this as the go-to gift guide for birthdays, holidays, and more:

Will you miss it?

It is hard to ignore the convenience of an online catalogue though. A physical catalogue can’t tell you whether the product is on sale, or actually in stock at a store near you, or enable you to buy it right as you’ve seen it. 

With 3.9m copies of the 1,748 page catalogue printed in its most recent run, there’s also an environmental benefit to not having to print and distribute this across the country. 

What do you think? Will you miss having the physical book to browse through? Is the online catalogue a suitable replacement?

When it comes to browsing what a store has to offer, do you find a benefit to having a physical catalogue, or do you see them as unnecessary?

Do you prefer a physical store catalogue or an online catalogue?
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I have not looked at an Argos catalogue for many years, so I won’t miss it. The catalogue always seemed a waste of paper and if I wanted to look at it in the days before the internet arrived, my neighbour had a copy.

Anyone who is nostalgic about the Argos catalogue can browse through past issues online: http://dev.argosbookofdreams.co.uk

My main wish is that they keep that site up and continue to add to it each year. Otherwise how will people in the future know what the trends were back in 2021. A real example. Go back just twenty years and you will find that an MP3 player or a Digital Camera was much more expensive than a mobile phone. It shows how quickly the world changes.

I find that Which? Magazine fulfils the archive function quite satisfactorily. It might not capture every fad and fashion but over the years most trends in consumer taste have been reflected in its coverage and it is a documentary record of the goods and prices that were popular over the last seventy five years [from time before Argos]. Which? doesn’t have the physical weight and bulk of the Argos book, of course, but its editorial content adds interesting context and detail to the products such that you will not find in a sales catalogue.

I have bought a couple of old Which magazines for that very reason. However, as pointed out on https://retromash.com/argos/ it is interesting to see how long a particular product or type of product stays in fashion, and how the price changes.

It’s more nostalgia than anything – I’m from 1972 just like the Argos catalogue, I spent many an hour pouring over the laminated book of dreams, wondering how I could possess all the beautiful things, most of my Christmas and Birthday presents came from hours of studying. Shame it’s going but I’ve not used one in a while. Think they should keep at one shop with the LBD as well as the paper slips and the little pens, just for old time’s sake like.

Its demise makes ordering in store more awkward because the catalogue touch screens are quite basic and not good for general browsing. At home I always access on line to find and order locally and though I have a recent catalogue I think I’ve opened it twice since I had it. It probably is a waste of paper, but the shops need to improve the customer interface to compensate for the on screen approach.

Understand the ecological reasoning behind this, but some of us of a certain age have learnt our l T techniques empirically & are’nt certain we shop online safely & are dubious to commit fully to I T transactions.

Screwfix are’nt currently issuing catalogues.

It will be interesting to see like for like sales volumes following these measures.

Encironmentally good but will probably put numerous printers and distributors out of work.

But give work to web designers, database managers, costumer engagement, etc.

What am I going to read while sitting in splendid solitude in the smallest room in the house now?

It will disadvantage those without the internet, of course. But, like telephine directories and the RS catalogue it was a tremendous waste of paper and shipping.

Axminster Tools stopped their paper catalogue a year or two ago but have now reintroduced it. I like looking through it at all the tools I would like to own, choose those I need and look at all the clever gadgets that are available. Just the thing for the rest room bookcase John. However, a lot of the stuff they supply is still only visible online.

Sometimes it’s easier to find what you want in the printed catalogue, having said that it is a great waste of paper and money having a catalogue that may only be used two or three times in it’s life. If they are having no catalogues how will selecting items in store work, will they only allow online orders (click and collect) or will you have to go through an on line catalogue in the store to order. Could be they will loose custom if the don’t sort out the search which at present is not very good.

Vynor made a similar comment above. Hopefully Argos will improve their screen displays in the store.

It might make sense to continue to produce laminated catalogues in Argos stores.

From what I’ve seen, tablet computers have replaced paper catalogues in store. These can take a bit of getting used to and are sometimes a bit slow, but otherwise work nicely. Also, sales staff are usually present, in case anyone wants help with those devices.

Last time I was in the Gloucester store, I was able to have an intelligent conversation with one of the staff about call blocking phones and other matters.

Margaret says:
31 July 2020

They need to keep paper copies in store for elderly and those without internet access, also do people impulse buy more when browsing a catalogue, ? Used to like the old one years ago, but not the recent design with much smaller pictures.If it’s good for the planet it’s good for me, Less waste

In its early days, Argos shopping was a primitive experience reminiscent of a third-world airport arrivals hall. Although the printed catalogues were not widely distributed, most people knew before turning up roughly what they were thinking of buying and went straight to one of the long desks that held the laminated pages from the catalogue mounted into awkward ring-binders fixed into the counters.

There they identified the item they wanted, wrote the catalogue number on a chit with the feeble ball-point pens provided, and took it to a pay desk where a clerk booked it in and took the money. You were then directed to go to a section of the “baggage hall” [A, B or C] and wait your turn until the goods went past you on a conveyor belt for collection in return for the docket supplied at the pay desk. Whether this process inspired the Generation Game TV show or it was the other way round I don’t know, but it was mildly amusing to watch the other patient observers and guess whether they were waiting for the fondue set, the heated hair rollers, or the cuddly toy.

Argos made no attempt to find out who their customers were so they acquired virtually no market intelligence, they packed the catalogues out with such a vast number of items that they had logistical problems from Day One as they tried to produce the goods on demand [this was to compete with mail order catalogues which were serviced from one giant warehouse and a handful of distribution centres whereas Argos had to be on every high street each with a full inventory], and their prices were not especially keen so they were not a threat to other retailers – it was the product range and convenience that appealed. Argos could have killed Woolworths and the Co-op years before they died of natural causes if it had raised its game and used modern marketing techniques.

Eventually, Argos were dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, but again in a primitive fashion with dumb terminals and no account system for frequent customers so all transactions had to start from first base. All the smart technology was behind the collection counter and in the warehouses with not much customer-facing interaction.

At last, Argos has acquired cultural significance through the demise of its catalogue and, to its credit, it is a strong survivor. Let’s hope Sainsbury’s keep it up to the task. There are obvious opportunities there for synergies and rationalisation of product lines across the combined operations and, with easy parking at large Sainsbury’s stores, Argos should do better.

We have not made much use of Argos in recent times except for some large appliance purchases where their prices have been highly competitive and delivery is convenient and reliable. Indeed, next day – or even same day – delivery has become their strongest selling point now and as a company it has a good reputation for fair trading and customer service.

It brings back many memories as a family at Christmas looking through and circling items but I can’t remember the last time I missed having a catalogue at home.

Some people are going to lose out especially senior citizens who are not IT savvy. If Argos thinks they are saving trees I am sure someone else will come along and cut them down.

Kelvin – Argos has always been very helpful to customers who need assistance with using their outlets and I am sure they will continue to look after customers who struggle with new technology, the more so now that the company is part of Sainsbury’s.

It’s probably not the trees that are the environmental concern behind the policy decision to scrap the catalogue but the production, transport and waste disposal costs. Full colour printing and glazed paper does not come cheap and since most customers are probably using the internet to make their selections nowadays it is a smart move. The printing industry is the big loser with the transfer of so much business to the internet and the Argos catalogue must have been a very valuable contract.

The content function will remain, of course, to produce the images and descriptions for on-line presentation, and a number of physical copies will still be required for the outlets.

Rachel says:
31 July 2020

I find it can be very difficult to browse an online catalogue. If you are pretty specific about what you want then fine. If you are not sure exactly what might be most suitable then the paper catalogue is much easier to look through. I hope they keep the laminated ones in stores – just looking through the index can be useful when sub categories are listed.

Rachel – It might be better to browse the product category you are looking for across a number of makes or stores or on-line marketplaces in order to narrow down the products you could buy and then check their availability and price on the Argos site. You can keep a number of tabs open so you can easily make comparisons across a range of suppliers.

I think Rachel is correct to point out that browsing a paper catalogue and browsing online shops are different skills.

I find it much easier to flick through a paper publication – tools, seeds, plants, are ones I use – to find what I want, unless it is something very specific when the search term is clear. Feet up with a drink and a Thompson and Morgan catalogue is a pleasant diversion in the winter when thinking about the gardening year to come. But it is a waste of paper and transport.

I also find paper documents much easier to browse because you can take in so much with one glance and there is no need for the continual scrolling and panning, but keeping two or three pages open at the same time is not so easy with paper catalogues and realistically you can only work with one supplier at a time. Another advantage of browsing on-line is the ease with which pages can be magnified for a close-up look at items, and there is frequently more than one view available so you can see what they look like from all angles, and assembly instructions or detailed specifications are more likely to be available on-line.

On-line browsing is certainly a skill that takes time to acquire but there are pros and cons on both sides. Fortunately Argos are going to continue to have the manual version in their outlets alongside computer screens for on-line access.

Like Malcolm, I enjoy receiving gardening catalogues but these are minnows compared to the great whale that was the Argos tome. I have just taken delivery of some special shrubs from Hayloft and their brochures are full of gorgeous pictures of rare and unusual plant varieties. I place my gardening orders on-line however and there are sometimes web-only offers that are worth considering.

Interesting John. I tend to close one tab before opening the next, having exhausted the information in the first. I might return to it but my progress is linear I don’t keep tabs on everything. This is not something I do by design, just habit. I agree with Rachel that an index is useful, otherwise it means refining the input in the search column until the exact product materialises. Some sites seem to have their own ideas of what I have asked for and go off on a tangent, presumably to interest me in other products. This is frustrating. Searching on line becomes an art while searching an index is more straightforward.

Yes, I am a fan of a good index. In an early part of my working life I compiled indices but got told off for too much cross-referencing and sub-categorisation. I said I thought that would be helpful. I soon moved onwards and upwards so left that work to others. This could be why I get so annoyed with an inadequate index.

I often have multiple tabs open. Sometimes it’s useful to have a new page rather than a new tab so that you can look at two pages simultaneously. Some people use two screens.

Depending on the website, it might be possible to search for keywords, which is not possible with a printed catalogue.

Ian Scott says:
2 August 2020

My late mother never had a computer or the internet; and she also had limited ability to get around the shops in town. As she was also somewhat deaf she wasn’t keen on using the Argos telephone order line. Having a copy of a paper catalogue allowed her to look at the pages for what electric lawnmowers (say) were available, make her choice, and then get somebody she knew (which sometimes was me) to go the local Argos shop to purchase and deliver her choice.

One of my moments of “things are different” after she died was when the next edition of the Argos catalogue was published, and I realised I needed only to collect a single copy for me rather than also collecting one for her too.

It’s a good idea for the environment but what about people who don’t have the internet, are housebound or live too far from an Argos store?
Couldn’t they produce less and make a small charge to discourage people from taking them unnecessarily?

Clara says:
11 August 2020

My friends daughter loves looking at the pictures and has for many years found pleasure browsing through (We use to smile at the worn out condition ) the catalogue she always chooses the things she likes by circling them for her mum to see ..ready for birthdays Xmas presents . she doesn’t read or write and hasn’t the ability to use phone …such a shame .

I certainly remember the pleasure I had as a child in the 1950’s looking at an old mail order catalogue and seeing the styles and prices of the 1930’s. I still have that 1936 Great Universal Stores catalogue and get more pleasure from looking through that than at a modern Argos catalogue!

Sheenagh says:
27 September 2020

My mums 84 and doesnt have internet and is very unhappy she cant browse a catalogue to buy or get ideas for xmas gery disappointed.

Hopefully she’ll like this:-https://www.thesun.co.uk/money/12993249/argos-christmas-gift-guide-catalogue/

I was and still am shocked at Argos’s decision. It is totally unfair to the customers who want to browse and order by catalogue. I love my catalogues and they are denying customers like me the right to shop the way we want to. Such silly people (at Argos)!
I so loved browsing through the catalogue, seeing something I wanted then heading for the store and the laminated catalogues/order slips to buy it. Proper retail therapy for me.
I think they previously got it right with the catalogues and digital computers in-store then all could be catered for – now they go and blow it! Now they fancy a change and going completely digital! I don’t think these people at Argos could run a tap let alone a business. Who agrees with me? Please reply if you do.

Looks like Argos did a bit of u-turn for xmas gifts:-https://www.thesun.co.uk/money/12993249/argos-christmas-gift-guide-catalogue/

I am in two minds about such catalogues. On the one hand they are a terrific waste of paper. I have a Screwfix one of over 1000 pages that I refer to very rarely. But skimming through the catalogue can find just the thing for the job but, moreover, uncover useful products I never thought about or knew existed. Far better than looking on screen. But is it worth the waste? Probably not.

I know what you’re saying about waste but that catalogue was popular and Argos now want to only cater for certain people and lose some of their customers – even more wasteful i think, as a business.

Maybe if those who want the catalogue paid for it? Rather like we do for carrier bags :-). That should cut down the volume produced. But I do not see condoning such waste as necessary to support Argos’s business. You can use the online version, as with most companies, or visit the store (while they remain). Sainburys recognise this as they are closing all standalone stores and opening 150 in their supermarkets.

I suspect there are very few Argos customers who cannot use a computer or other device to select products [in “the comfort and safety of their own home”, as the distance-selling industry has always proclaimed]. For many, a good reason to buy from Argos is the keener prices, easy terms, and fast delivery service. Cutting out the expense of the give-away catalogue is no doubt a worthwhile economy that will help maintain these advantages.

Unlike with conventional mail order catalogues, Argos never required customers to buy through an agent and there will be no change to that aspect of the service.

The Argos model was a watered-down version of Amazon’s modus op. Amazon created the web site, and had a warehouse, Argos had the catalogue and each shop was its own warehouse. This saved on staff and displaying items in a large space. Argos shops were reasonable compact. The catalogue was the key to its retail system since one could browse at home as well as in the shop. This meant that Argos was only a shelf away when one wanted anything at home, and the same catalogue was available in the shop. As people became more computer aware, Argos had its own web site to compliment the catalogue. Thanks to Amazon, people used this more often and Argos could see considerable savings in digitising its wares and saving on printing costs. It could even do this in store while still keeping the system of counter and warehouse in play. Older and less technically aware people lost out and, to an extent, the public service that the Argos catalogue gave these people has gone. There were not enough of these to make it worth while printing the catalogue for everyone. I remember the Janet Frazer catalogue of the seventies, expensive, but available to everyone on the never-never. One could become an agent and sell to others. There was the joke about the Conservative, Labour and the Tupperware parties. That, and the others of this type, faded gracefully away as the internet took over. If the internet ever becomes so corrupt as to be dangerous, catalogues may come back, but I think that is doubtful. Screwfix and Tool Station are hanging on in there with their twin web and catalogue approach. I wonder for how long?

Since Tupperware parties were for smartly dressed ladies (or so I have been told) perhaps the company should have diversified and added Tupperwear clothing to their portfolio.

If I’m using an online catalogue I often print the relevant pages showing the items I want with order codes and prices. I may annotate the printouts with my own notes.