It sounds like an Onion story: A long dead 1990 brand will lead the retail zombie apocalypse to your mobile device. Such a ridiculous concept that it's funny. Except, the joke's on all of us, because that's exactly what's happening, and the concept might just work.
Circuit City is rearing its head after years of bad sales and the Great Recession put the company into the ground a decade ago. Not that retail has been easy for anyone. Even certified experts have screwed up and e-commerce can also have its ups and deep downs with little hope of totally replacing physical stores.
What makes the announcement of a Circuit City reboot that will launch February 15 harder to take seriously at first glance is the plethora of buzzwords packed into the announcement from earlier this month. Initially the people in charge will focus on "the retail verticals of e-commerce, mobile, technology, [and] omni-channel commerce" and plan to "elaunch with a dynamic, social-focused e-commerce site, along with various concepts of innovative retail stores, and unprecedented e-commerce technology offerings."
Somewhere an overworked marketing drone who hasn't stepped outside in the last 23 months is writhing, though whether in ecstasy or agony, it's hard to tell.
But forget the verbiage for a moment and consider the approach.
An online start
Starting online first makes total sense. Instead of immediately pouring all the capital necessary to open stores, this given them a chance to test product selections and pitches and learn what works. Better to have a platform allowing easy and rapid experimentation than betting on making the right "genius" choices and getting locked into them immediately through physical locations.
Ease back into physical retail
There are good reasons to expand into physical locations of one sort or another -- just ask Amazon, which has been opening bookstores and is now expanding into food outlets that won't need cashiers. Circuit City doesn't plan a string of big box stores, according to Brandchannel. Instead, the company looks toward kiosks, small curated showrooms, and pop-up locations inside other retailers.
Implementing artificial intelligence is smart. That's why Amazon has done it, with machine learning and tailoring offers to consumers. But IBM's Watson technologies are incredibly impressive. Beyond trying to tailor a product mix for a specific customer, the natural language processing should allow people to get better answers to their shopping questions, and the system will learn their preferences. That should lead to a better purchasing experience and, as a result, higher sales. Some additional plans include videos, virtual vignettes, search-by-photo, augmented reality, and tech support via video chat," according to consumer electronics website Twice. And a partnership with Skinny IT will provide home installations.
Will all this work? No guarantee. But the basic concept seems sound. The question remains whether a brand out of the public eye for so long will gain enough attention in the face of so many competitors.