Argos-parent Home Retail chief executive John Walden was recently asked to explain the decline in Argos sales. The stores may be the answer.

Argos-parent Home Retail chief executive John Walden recently had to explain the decline in Argos sales. Why are people taking their custom elsewhere in a growing economy? An answer lies, I think, in Argos stores and what it is like to shop them.

I decided to go to my local Argos branch armed with my iPhone to film the customer experience.

From a retail perspective the shops can still often be a bit of a mess but the touchscreens – the things that are at the heart of the customer interface, the things the customers use to buy products – are just awful.

Interface issues

Try and enter a catalogue number and it’s very hit and miss. It doesn’t always work and customers have to keep pressing the screen until it does.

If your mobile phone worked like that you would return it. If your bank ATM worked like that, you would bank elsewhere.

The ATM, Sky+ and iPhone are just three examples of great design, so good that my mum can use them without any instructions. The Argos interface, by comparison, is very poorly designed – nothing like that of Apple.

If someone presses a wrong number on their mobile phone, they simply press ‘x’ and it deletes the last number. On the Argos interface, shoppers have to press delete and start all over again, every time.

If people do press the right numbers they are greeted by a screen that looks very much like a poor website from the days of internet dial-up. 

Poor wording

I chose to search for a product at random from the catalogue. The words on the buy screen were very confusing.

I’d come into the store to buy something and it said ‘order now.’ The word ‘order’ means to apply for, send away etc. so a customer might be very confused.

Looking a bit higher up on the screen it said, ‘order now to pay and collect in-store between [dates]’.

On a search on another random product I again got ‘order now’ but this time also ‘reserve now to pay and collect in-store first thing tomorrow’.

Both messages look as if they have been written for people who are not standing in the store. Both use language poorly. Do words really make any difference? Ask Apple that question. On iTunes, it changed “download” to “get” and it made a big difference.

I understand that Argos has updated some stores and now uses iPads that have better touch screens. I don’t care about those shops, I’m standing in an older branch, and hundreds of thousands of customers in old stores don’t care either. It’s like telling someone in a bed and breakfast about a five-star hotel that other people are staying in.

Can the interfaces be changed? Yes. Can the language be updated? Yes. How long should it take? Not long and it should cost next to nothing.

Maybe then the sales at Argos might go up because people would not be walking out frustrated. 

  • Ajaz Ahmed launched Freeserve and is the founder of