After a disastrous fourth quarter, Radio Shack announced on Tuesday that the company will close 1,100 of its 5,000 stores. The consumer electronics retailer has been struggling with declining sales for years, but never so much as right now. The company reported a loss of $191.4 million in the all-important holiday quarter.
If you're looking for evidence of murder, Amazon's fingerprints are all over the scene. It's the same story across the retail landscape. When you can't compete on either price or selection, you are doomed.
There's a Radio Shack about half a mile from my house that I've been going to half a dozen times a year for the last decade. It has been a convenient option when there's a gizmo I want right now, like an Ethernet-to-USB adapter or an audio cable that will connect my computer to my stereo receiver. In an instant gratification world, Radio Shack always had a place.
But, evidently, not enough of a place. And for obvious reasons: When I compare prices on some of the things that I've bought from Radio Shack with what I can get from Amazon or other places online, it seems like financial malpractice to keep shopping there. And there's no getting around the fact that a tiny little storefront simply can't stock the vast array of parts and gadgets out there.
I'll miss that Radio Shack if it is on the list of victims, but not as badly as I miss a good local independent bookstore. Buying cables or Wi-Fi dongles online isn't as emotionally wrought as participating in the possible death of the publishing industry. But I do wonder where the friendly, helpful Radio Shack staffers I've come to appreciate over the years will end up. Hustling to drag inventory around an Amazon warehouse, while looking over their shoulder at the robots coming to take those jobs?
The narrative is relentless. In 2003, Amazon and Radio Shack both posted total annual sales of $5 billion. In 2013, pointed out the Wall Street Journal's Dennis Berman, Amazon was up to $75 billion and Radio Shack was down to $3.5 billion.
Where does that narrative end?