Argos begins switch from catalogues

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ArgosArgos hailed a key milestone in its 40-year history today as it threw open the doors to a new trial store where tablet computers will replace the retailer's trademark laminated catalogues.

Customers will be able to browse, check product reviews and order via in-store iPads at six "digital concept" shops being launched by the group, with a 60-second fast-track collection service for those pre-ordering online or on mobile devices.

Tables of tablet computers will take the place of its traditional catalogues, pencilsand paper slips across the trial outlets, although Argos assured customers it would not axe its catalogues altogether, and would still make them available on customer service desks for those "more comfortable using them for shopping".

The first of the concept stores opened at Old Street in London, with three further sites planned across the capital in Marble Arch, Old Kent Road and Chancery Lane, and two stores in Colchester and Dunfermline.

It comes as the Home Retail Group-owned chain plans to transform itself into a digital-led retailer.

The firm said it already makes more than 40% of sales online, while revenues from smartphone and tablet orders are also increasing at a rapid pace and now account for 16% of total sales.

It recently posted a more than doubling in operating profits to £7.7 million in the six months to August 31, up from £3.3 million a year earlier thanks in part to early progress on its overhaul.

Argos is scaling back the print version of its catalogue as it introduces more digital versions, while it is also closing or relocating at least 75 stores over the next five years.

But it insisted the store estate will remain at the heart of its business, with around 90% of all sales still involving a shop.

John Walden, managing director of Argos, said: "Stores continue to be critically important as a national network for product collection, and a local presence for local colleagues to provide customer service."

The group hopes to use the best elements of its concept stores to reinvigorate its wider high street chain of around 735 stores.

Half of all customers still pay and collect in stores, although a growing number - around a third - shop online to click and collect.

Its concept stores will enable shoppers to pay online for the first time and then pick up orders from fast-track points, with a new distribution model allowing either immediate, same-day or next-day collection on an expanded range of around 20,000 products.