WAY BACK in my student days I had a girlfriend from a rather affluent background who had never visited an Argos store. She laughed when I suggested we buy some or other dull household item from there, assuming that this was a joke.
Yet half an hour later we were mooching around the Holloway Road branch, with her marvelling at the bizarre novelty of flicking through a massive laminated catalogue. We scribbled item numbers on a paper slip, joined one queue, joined another queue, and then waited for our ticket number to ping up on a screen while a moody teenager fetched the goods.
How things change. Argos, until recently seen as an anachronism doomed to extinction, is now all about click-and-collect and concept stores where you browse on iPads.
And you know what? It’s working. Sales from phones and tablets account for over one fifth of all revenue, helping like-for-likes to grow 4.9 per cent in the first quarter.
Shares in Home Retail, which owns Argos, fell four per cent yesterday, partly due to falling margins and warnings of tough sales comparatives in weeks to come. Yet some of the drop may have been profit-taking. After all, the stock is an exceptionally impressive 48 per cent higher than it was in June a year ago.
Ultimately, this looks like a success story. Sure, competition from firms like AO World will keep Argos on its toes, but it has shown an ability to fit into the modern world. As the saying goes, adapt or die – and Argos has shown it can adapt. Some of its retail peers would do well to follow suit.