Argos is the largest general-goods retailer in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland with over 700 stores. Argos is unique amongst major retailers in the U.K. because its primary means of displaying goods to customers is via a catalogue. Customers browse through the Argos catalogue, select items to purchase, pay for the items, and then collect the items from the in-store collection desk or have the item delivered to their home.
Argos owns several brands including Elizabeth Duke (jewellery, see below, but dropped in the latest catalogue), Mikomi and many others.
Richard Tompkins founded Green Shield Stamps in the UK. Whilst on holiday in the Greek island of Argos he came up with the idea that people could purchase goods from his "Green Shield Gift House" with cash rather than savings stamps.
In 1972, it became apparent that the business should go in this direction, so he rebranded the Green Shield Gift House as Argos, after the place he dreamt the idea up.
The original Green Shield Stamps catalogue shops were rebranded Argos beginning in July 1973.
The first purpose built store opened on the A28, Sturry Road, Canterbury in late 1973.
So, Argos launched in July 1973 with 1000 members of staff, taking £1,000,000 during a week in November. Argos was purchased by BAT Industries in 1979 for a deal worth £32 million. The following year, Argos opened its Elizabeth Duke jewellery counter (named after the director's wife) and by 1982 was the UK's 4th biggest jewellery retailer.
Green Shield Stamps can still be used in Argos to this day.
Argos publishes catalogues twice a year (a Spring/Summer edition in January and an Autumn/Winter edition in July). Current editions have well over 1500 pages containing photographs of items, brief descriptions, prices and a catalogue number. Store copies are almost identical to home versions except for being ring-bound with individually laminated pages and updated price information.
Catalogues are complemented by seasonal sales flyers, offering Non-Catalogue lines and price reductions on existing deals. Other items are sometimes available in stores, such as ex-catalogue goods at reduced prices (especially after the launch of a new catalogue).
In early 2006, Argos trialed a new catalogue branded Argos Home in over 100 stores in the U.K. This proved successful and on Saturday 5 August 2006, it launched the second Argos Home catalogue, this time in all 200 Argos Extra stores. The catalogue only contains home furniture and styling tips for the current season. All items displayed in the Argos Home catalogue are also available in the main catalogue too.
Customers are able to browse through the catalogue at home or in-store or can view products on the company's website. If shopping in-store, the customer takes a list of catalogue numbers to a till, where the goods are paid for and the customer issued with a receipt. A picking ticket is then printed in the store's stockroom, and a member of staff picks the items and takes them to the collection area. When the goods arrive at the collection area the customer is called forward to receive them.
Most stores have an automated "Call Forward" system in place which issues customers with an order number and estimated collection time. The customer is called forward to the collection counter automatically once the estimated collection time is reached, sooner if staff override the system or later if there is a delay in the stockroom.
Quick Pay kiosks are available in all stores. Using a touchscreen terminal, customers can enter their catalogue numbers, pay by credit , Debit card or Argos store card and be issued with a receipt without the intervention of a cashier.
To ensure that stock is available when a customer arrives in store, they are encouraged to use the "Check & Reserve" service before going into the store, either using the Argos website, telephone or text message service. This allows a customer to reserve stock until the end of the next working day, or order it into that store, depending on the store format. Customers who reserve items are issued with a reservation number, which is either presented to the cashier or entered into a Quick Pay terminal and the customer pays for the goods as usual. Customers can also check stock in-store using the stock checker terminals, saving them from queuing for items that may be out of stock.
Many stores have a jewellery counter, where customers may view jewellery before purchasing and where specialist jewellery sales can take place such as rings and personalised jewellery. Many stores also have the facility to remove links from watches purchased at Argos to ensure the correct sizing.
Argos also operates a returns policy, whereby for most products if you change your mind, within 30 days of purchase you may return an item, in its original undamaged and unused condition, to any Argos store with your receipt for a full refund or an exchange. There are exceptions to this returns policy, such as earrings and footspas which cannot be returned unless faulty due to hygiene reasons, games and software due to copyright reasons, and MP3 players, digital cameras, games consoles, satellite navigation units and digital television receivers due to customer security. Customers are advised to check the Argos website before making a return to ensure such products are returnable. Non-returnable products are marked clearly in the catalogue and on the website.
Argos has a home delivery arm entitled Argos Direct, which allows delivery of most in-store items, and also a selection of larger goods in the catalogue which are set for delivery only; customers can order goods in-store or online for home delivery. Argos is currently trialling a new store system that allows Argos Direct orders to be placed from in-store terminals linked to the website.
The method of shopping in Argos differs from most traditional British and Irish high street retailers. Because most stock is held in stockrooms to which only staff have access, much more stock can be held per unit floor area than can be held in a traditional shop. Stock is typically housed in 3 metre high racks with numbered aisles, bays and shelves for fast and efficient acquirement of items. Argos often packages its goods in plain packaging or simple plastic bags, rather than smart packaging for shopfloor display. The fact that customers don't have direct access to most stock means that incidents of shoplifting and customers damaging stock are significantly reduced.
Because of the way Argos operates, less shop floorspace is required but very often a minimum of two staff members to serve each customer (one on till, one acquiring goods and dispatching) is required resulting in different overheads compared to traditional stores. Most of the goods are available tightly packed over the counter, but larger items might be delivered straight to the customer's home a few days after their order is placed. Most Argos stores have small items stacked in the till area (such as water jug filters, light bulbs and batteries) for customers to purchase at tills.
There are three main formats of Argos stores:
In the financial year April 2003–March 2004, Argos had sales of over £3 billion. Argos was acquired by GUS plc in 1998 and has its head office at The Retail Centre of Excellence in Milton Keynes. Argos is part of the Home Retail Group, which also includes the Homebase DIY retailer.
Argos used to own Argos Additions, but this is now owned by the Shop Direct Group and is known as Additions Direct. In June 2005, Argos purchased the Index brand from Littlewoods but are not currently using it. They also purchased 33 former Index stores which were converted into Argos stores.
The Home Retail Group demerged from GUS plc on 11 October 2006. The other remaining company of GUS, Experian, is going to handle the financial services that were previously handles by Mark Industries.
In 2001, Argos sparked a political controversy in Scotland, when it sacked several workers for refusing to work on a Sunday. This action would have been illegal in the rest of the U.K., as the Sunday Trading Act 1994 gave shopworkers in England and Wales the right to refuse Sunday work (unless they were employed to work solely on a Sunday). The 1994 Act did not apply to Scotland as there was no legislation regarding Sunday trading applicable to Scotland. Although Argos later retracted its decision to sack the workers and to enforce a Sunday working clause in Scottish employee contracts, its actions led to the passing of the Sunday Working (Scotland) Act 2003 which extended the legal right of employees to refuse Sunday working to include shopworkers in Scotland.
In 2002, Argos, along with rival retailer Index, was accused by the Office of Fair Trading of price fixing goods from toy manufacturer Hasbro. The decision reached in 2003 resulted in Argos being fined £17.28 million, however, an appeal in 2005 led to that being reduced to £15 million. Argos boss Terry Duddy gave evidence along with David Snow, Jonathan Ward, Alan Cowley and Ian Thompson. As of 2005, Argos denies price fixing and is appealing the decision.
In 2008, Chinese manufactured sofas from Argos and other retailers Land of Leather and Walmsleys were featured in a BBC Watchdog report on skin irritation. The Chinese manufacturer, LinkWise, denies that the furniture is to blame for the incidents. Watchdog praised Argos for its speedy voluntary recall of the affected products, compared to the two other retailers involved.