Whilst many shops frequented by parents have disappeared over the years - such as Woolworths and more recently Mothercare - Argos have kept their game strong with same day delivery and prices that always rival Amazon. They've shown that they can step up and give people what they want from online shopping - efficiency.
I remember being shocked a few years ago when I realised that something I ordered online from Mothercare was going to take 10 days to get to me. I liked Mothercare, and I loved the instore experience when shopping for a new arrival - and as much as I don't like the world speeding up and my 6 year old thinking next day delivery is the norm, I felt for years that Mothercare needed to speed up their delivery to stay in the game. They didn't, and they lost. Argos meanwhile have a vast selection and same day or next day delivery - a true Amazon rival when you realise you don't have something for that party the next day (back when we could have parties).
However, there are a few things that are getting increasingly frustrating about Argos, and I think they really need to address these if they are still going to feel like such a contender in the market.
My biggest bug bear used to be their search landing pages. I once was trying to locate a certain Thomas the Tank Engine toy, but when I searched for Thomas the Tank Engine on their site, rather than just return all the Thomas products, they returned a landing page that was full of banners and visuals to let me choose from tracks, or cuddly toys, or this and that - but with no way to actually really find what I actually wanted! Now I've noticed they still have those same landing pages, but with a text link on them to "view all"- that's all I need, give me a list and I'll find what I'm looking for. Don't second guess me or "try to help" when I've just searched for something.
My issues with the online experience since though are much bigger.
When they won't sell you stuff
The worst thing about shopping online with Argos is not being able to buy the stuff you find in search results.
You're on their website, you search for Playmobil, you find the perfect thing - you're happy, you're excited that you've found a bargain, prompt delivery sounds amazing - your shopping world is a good place. You notice that you need to select collect in store or delivery - not a problem. You happily type in your post code... but oh wait... they can't deliver. Never mind, you'll just pick it up... no, it's not at your local story... what about the nearly local one? Nope not there either. Hmm... you try your Mum's post code, your in-laws, your sister-in-laws (yes I've had my sister-in-law who lives 90 miles away pick up an Argos order for me before when I needed melanine champagne flutes for a garden party, and bring them to said party)... sometimes you strike lucky, usually you don't. That thing they're selling online - you just can't get it.
Basically, it's a shop that won't sell you a LOT of the things on it - usually the ones you want. And it's SOOO frustrating! So much worse than if they just didn't have stuff!
They have recently added a feature that shows you where something is available if you're able to travel - which obviously we can't at the moment, but at least then you know your options. But that kinda reveals that they've listed something on their website which they have 1 of in Newcastle yet they're showing it to you in search results for an online shop when you're in Somerset. And that's annoying.
I don't know why it's so annoying - it's their business, it's their prerogative not to sell me something, and it's their prerogative to not just have a system for putting things in the post. But, I'll say it again, it's ANNOYING. And for a major brand, I feel it gradually chips away at my opinion of them. I'll just go straight to Amazon rather than waste my time on a post code lottery treasure hunt on Argos.
How could this be solved? There are big ways and smaller ways:
1) Use Royal Mail! Use a nationwide delivery service! I don't care if I have to wait 3-5 days and next day delivery suddenly isn't an option if I can actually get the thing! Give people the option - get some things quick, and wait longer for others.
2) Let me filter by what I can actually get. If logistically sorting out a nationwide delivery method is too expensive and not commercially worth it, then at least spare me the pain of seeing things I then can't get. And save me the time of trying every post code I know when I'm looking at a product. Put a filter in the search results so I can dis-count things I can't actually get, or, once my post code is known, mark in the search results things which aren't available - grey them out or put a label on them.
When they won't tell you what you're buying
The next thing on my "Reasons Argos are getting more and more annoying" list is when an item is listed as a "selection" and so you don't know what you're getting.
If you're familar with PJ Masks, you'll know they're a merry band of 3 super heros. Last Christmas Argos sold some very cool masks for said super heros, but as a "selection" item meaning you ordered one and you wouldn't know which of the 3 characters you were getting. Now, that's a problem when your kid has a favourite. Or when your son doesn't want to be the girl super hero, or your daughter particularly wants to be the girl. It's not such an issue instore as when your order arrived you could ask them to switch it - although that's a waste of people's time to walk out a product just for you to ask for another. But online - it's a nightmare! It's a completely inadequate way to sell goods. And it must result in so many returns. I returned the PJ Masks mask twice as I kept getting the wrong one, and then just gave up.
The reason this is a fresh wound for me - and the reason for this blog post - is because my daughter had some Christmas money and wanted to buy a Peppa Pig playset. It was a "selection" item - there was a tree house or a swing set, and you couldn't pick which you got. As it was on 2 for £15 (my favourite Argos deal) and her money covered it, we decided to get both. I really REALLY hoped that whoever packaged up the order would have the sense to give us one of each. But no. The order arrived and we got 2 swing sets. Now, what's the rationale there? If this was for the same household, we wouldn't want 2 the same. If it was for presents we were giving away, it probably wouldn't matter if each present was different. So wasn't it a safer bet to give us one of each? Perhaps they're out of stock of the tree house (the one my daughter particularly wanted) - but it still shows on the website as it's grouped with the swing set.
Solution? When things are actually different toys, group them separately! I don't know how much of a headache that'll be, but compare it to the returns - or lack of orders in the first place (unquantifiable, I appreciate, although a study in Google Analytics to see if selection products are bought less often might give some insight) and maybe it'll be worth it.
General customer service
Boy, did I have a 'mare with Argos this week. I'll give you a whistle stop tour:
I ordered 2 x Peppa Pig play sets.
I realised after I'd checked out that I'd arranged delivery for a less than ideal time, so I went into my account to see if I could re-arrange it. I could. Cool bananas.
After I clicked to re-arrange it, the website was giving me a loading wheel and then eventually a message to say that a re-arrangement wasn't possible at that time. However, I'd meanwhile - whilst the loading wheel was showing - received a text and email to say my re-arranged delivery time was confirmed.
I clicked back to my main list of orders to see if the website had now updated with the new delivery time and saw that it said the order had been cancelled! But I decided to wait and see what would arrive the next day, as I'd been text and emailed that everything was A-OK.
The next day, there was no delivery, so I went on the Argos live chat to ask what the dealio was. The chatbot couldn't help because the order number I was giving her was for a cancelled order. I can't remember the details, but it wasn't that clear - it only made sense because I'd been into my account and had seen that the website thought it was cancelled, although I'd received no notification of that.
Eventually I spoke to someone on chat and they told me it had been cancelled due to lack of stock. At this point my Internet flaked and I had to start over, and got the same response. I said that was weird as it was still available for me to buy again today. But, apparently my only option was to order it again.
So I did, but this time I did it too quickly as by now I was rushing. My post code was entered into the website and it was telling me it could deliver to my address... but I then didn't notice during the checkout process that the delivery address was set to my office - which I'm not going to at the moment due to the Pandemic. So that was annoying - it would be great if your delivery address could default to the one in your account that you've used when checking delivery on the product page.
That meant I wanted to change the delivery address. I asked the chatbot, no luck. I spoke to someone, they said I couldn't change it, I'd need to cancel the order. They then left me "on hold" (via chat) for ages whilst they cancelled it and then when I (very politely, as I'm always polite) asked if they could get it sorted asap as I needed to get to my Asda click and collect, they (also very politely) wished me a nice day and cut off.... without having cancelled the order. They had also taken me through various security steps to get this far.
So, I started ANOTHER live chat. This time, knowing that they couldn't change the delivery address, I asked the chat bot to cancel the order. 2 shakes of a lambs tail and the robot had cancelled it - less security questions than the person had asked for and no delay. So the robot saved the day, once I knew what to ask for. Perhaps if it was that easy for the robot they could make that an option from within your order history, and I wouldn't be on my 4th chat trying to guess what keywords the robot needs to hear.
I placed the order again, for the 3rd time - it arrived the next day, and would have been great if I hadn't received 2 swings.
UX and expectation
I don't know the ins and outs of Argos's stock management - I'm sure if it was simple to do nationwide delivery they would. But I do think there are some UX changes they can make to their website to help you get the information you need quickly and efficiently and not be left feeling frustrated.