The Computer Blog

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Problem with CompUSA

If you’ve read the online computer news, then you know that CompUSA is shutting approximately half its stores. This is something I’ve been expecting for a while, except on a smaller scale. As a longtime CompUSA customer, I’ve been saying for some time the company just really wasn’t competitive with other local, large retailers like MicroCenter or Fry’s. In my case, the store located closest to me is in Webster, Texas.

CompUSA never has been known for good prices. Admittedly, computer parts and accessories don’t allow for very large profit margins, and the success of online computer retailers only made the local retail store picture that much more difficult. But what I always noted about CompUSA wasn’t as much about what they provided but what they didn’t. The stores never seemed to sport the really good deals that other brick and mortar computer stores did, and it was the only store I knew of where I could count on not getting help when I needed it, even when there was sales staff around. In some strange twist of alchemcy, when I was just browsing or knew what I was going after, they were then always there.

My local CompUSA store is located in Webster, Texas, and it is one of the stores being closed. Only two stores are remaining open. One of them is in the shopper-heavy Galleria area, and the other is only a few miles away westward down Westheimer and is the newest of the lot.

My store was marked with a huge “Store Closing” banner and signs on the doors saying “Everything in the Store Up to 20% Off!”. I wandered through there yesterday on the way home from work to see if there were really any good deals to be had. Knowing my feelings about the company the way I do, I didn’t expect any. I was not disappointed. Most things were a measly 5% to a decent but not huge 10% off, enough to get me to buy something I was already planning to but not enough to make me spring forward and buy something on impulse. In other words, CompUSA was making sure they parted with very little of their inventory and either shipped it out to their remaining stores or were willing to pay another company to auction it off, anything other than gives its customers a really good deal. And, there you have it, i.e., the same attitude that helped drag the company down in the first place.

The store could withstand the devastating impacts of its own corporate culture as long as it was the only game in town; and for many years on the southeast side of Houston, it was. Then, a couple of years ago, Fry’s Electronics decided to build a huge store a few miles away. Despite the fact that Fry’s doesn’t have a sterling reputation for customer service, either, what it does have is a very large inventory and good prices; from that moment on, CompUSA was doomed. Within days of Fry’s opening, CompUSA became almost a ghost town. I would go in there from time to time to see what was going on and if anything was changing, and nothing ever did. The store never responded to the increased competition, preferring instead to sink into oblivion. That is exactly what it did.

Yesterday, I did buy a Logitech V100 scanner from them since I had been thinking about it for a while and it was 10% off. “All Sales Final” was marked on the sales slip.

Indeed, for CompUSA, they are.

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