Requiem For The Argos Catalogue, A Glossy Vision Of The Future

Tom Nicholson
·3-min read
Photo credit: Peter Macdiarmid - Getty Images
Photo credit: Peter Macdiarmid - Getty Images

From Esquire

Just shy of its 50th birthday, the Argos catalogue has passed on. At one time three-quarters of British households had an Argos catalogue, making it the second-most popular publication in the UK after the Bible. But it's just been announced that the retailer is going to stop printing them altogether.

"Over the decades the Argos catalogue has charted the nation’s changing tastes and trends in everything from must-have toys to the latest gadgets and devices," the Guardian reported Mark Given, chief marketing officer at Argos owner Sainsbury's, as saying.

"Just as our customers’ tastes have changed over the years, so have their shopping habits. We are seeing an increasing shift towards digital shopping, using our mobile app, website and in-store browsers. Closing the book on the catalogue will help us focus on delivering exciting and inspiring digital shopping experiences to meet the changing needs of our customers."

In short: the internet, obviously. It's tempting to feel dimly nostalgic about flipping through that catalogue, pointing at a lampshade or a toaster with fold-out crumpet rack and telling your sibling, "That's you." Over the last two decades we've got used to the idea of everything in the world existing somewhere out of sight but instantly tangible; the Argos catalogue did have a vague sense of the physical space that everything in the world could take up.

Photo credit: Evening Standard - Getty Images
Photo credit: Evening Standard - Getty Images

I had a better sense of it than most, as on my teenage paper round I had to deliver 160 of the bastards twice a year. It took forever. I got an extra £13, but I hated those glossy, slippery bricks.

The general outpouring of remembrances following the announcement isn't just about Argos though. This comes at a precipitous time for the makers of the stubby blue pens you'd use to scribble down product codes, who've seen their other big market – bookmakers' shops – nibbled away at by the shift to apps and the Super 6.

You could put the Argos catalogue alongside Blockbuster and Woolworth's as an example of a business that stopped making any sense at roughly the time 'Crazy Frog' went supernova, albeit one with an outsized nostalgia hit attached to it. The Argos catalogue isn't just history now, it's a Peter Kay routine. Ey! Do you remember! You'd go down Argos, look at toys in back of t'catalogue! Ey! What were all tharrabout!

Yes, the internet threw the Argos catalogue into a wood-chopper. But really, it was far more far-thinking than that. It was like a pamphlet advertising the future we live in now.

This gigantic bible of boring household items and multicoloured tat – this King James Version of late capitalism – was a sign that, yes, you can have literally anything you want, and you can have it right now. Argos might think about suing Jeff Bezos for stealing their idea and making it more efficient, and more evil.

I didn't really feel it when I was lugging them around the mean streets of north-west Cheshire, but the Argos catalogue made the idea of going to one shop for everything from board games to curtain rails to mobile phones to tumble-driers both wonderful and mundane.

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