This is Not Your Father’s Circuit City
Circuit City is officially back. During a press conference at CES 2018, CEO Ronny Shmoel made the news official and shared endless details about the relaunched company, it’s completely revamped and innovative website, and it’s plan to get back into brick and mortar retail—eventually—with an inspiring new floor plan.
Bottom line: Circuit City circa 2018 is a completely different company than the one you might remember that went out of business nearly a decade ago. And that’s absolutely a good thing.
Part of what led to the demise of Circuit City of old was its lack of ability to adapt to the changing needs of the consumer. Their big box stores looked old and tired. Their website was atrocious. They were simply losing steam and lacked wherewithal to recognize the changes that were needed before it was way too late.
But enough about the past. Circuit City in 2018 is a company that the CE retail community ought to be excited about.
Initially, the company will be a strictly ecommerce platform. The website goes live on February 15, and, if the projector-style preview is any indication, Shmoel and Co. did an impressive job building this platform from the ground up. The company is rooted in the concept of experiences. It’s something that sounds cliché in retail right now, but it’s one thing to say that you offer an in-store or online experience, and a whole different story to actually properly execute on that experience. Circuit City seems primed to execute.
The website allows the consumer to find product in a number of ways. They can discover through room layouts, they can shop by category, or they can shop by brand. The room layout experience is basically the digital version of an in-store demo room that’s totally customizable. The smart kitchen room, for example, has different tiers, where the consumer might be looking for a simple smart appliance, all the way up to a completely integrated smart kitchen with all of the bells and whistles. Within each tier, the consumer can essentially drag and drop product into the display, swap one brand out for another, and design the kitchen the way they want it to look with the products that they want in it. Along the way they get to learn about the different products they’re swapping in and out, and there’s the option to buy right on the site. That kind of experience is one that provides education first—it gets the consumer to understand more about the smart kitchen, if it’s something that’s new to them, without simply shoving product down their throat.
“Knowing exactly what you want takes some of the fun out of shopping in the first place,” Shmoel said. “Today’s consumers now browse, discover, and, most notably, create sharable stories out of what they find. … Rather than the conventional web sequence of simply looking at a product and making a purchase, by keeping our finger on the pulse of what is happening now and keeping an open mind to what can happen in the future, we’re able to adapt with consumer technology needs as we naturally grow and evolve in this industry.”
That’s 21st Century retailing.
Other website intricacies include an image search functionality, tons of social features baked into the platform (liking product, for example), and a whole artificial intelligence component—this is CES 2018 after all—that allows Circuit City to customize the user experience based on the consumers wants, needs, and interests. And, of course, an augmented reality function will be rolled out in the near future as well, allowing the consumer to view TVs, appliances, and more in their home to see what they’d look like before actually making the purchase.
Brick and Mortar Plan
Shmoel was a little less than willing to commit on a rollout plan for Circuit City’s physical stores. But the concept store that was shown off during the press conference was incredibly exciting and a breath of fresh air for an industry that desperately needs one—that being retail in general, not just CE retail.
In collaboration with the Taylored Group, the new design feels like a combination of Apple’s retail locations with a traditional independent CE retailer with demo areas. Roughly 10,000 square feet in size (less than a quarter the size of traditional big box stores), Circuit City retail locations will prioritize showing consumers how products can work together in different display vignettes that are smartly spread throughout the store. Additionally, borrowing from the “City” in its name, the stores will feature a community area where consumers can come in, connect to WiFi, enjoy complimentary coffee, partake in educational experiences and more. Again, Shmoel and Circuit City are putting a ton of emphasis on experience, and the physical retail concept couldn’t more perfectly tell that story.
Pictures of slides don't do it justice, but here's what we have until Circuit City shares their assets:
From a product mix perspective, Shmoel said the online and in-store mix will be essentially the same. The company has been focusing on some of the trendier categories—TVs, audio, small appliances, laptops/computers, gaming, cameras, drones, wearables, smart home, etc.—and then diving into different tiers of product within those categories. They’ve been working to keep their number of SKUs fairly limited, but depending on how the launch goes and eventual brick and mortar roll out, growth is always an option.
Then there's the store-in-a-store concept, which essentially allows other retailers—big box and otherwise—to bring into their stores mini Circuit City sections. It's a way for a retailer without a major consumer electronics play to quickly add one to their store and attract a new segment of customers into their location. Shmoel pointed to several opportunities that the company is in discussion on, but he couldn't share any details at the time of the press conference. It's just another example of how Circuit City is planning to get their brand back out there quickly and effectively.
The Skinny IT on Installation Services
Expanding into an area that Circuit City hadn’t been involved in in the past, the new company announced during the press conference a partnership with Installation Service Provider Skinny IT that will bring in-home installation and repair services to customers all across the country.
“When we began determining how we wanted to structure the new Circuit City, we knew installation had to be part of our services to stand out among others,” Shmoel said. “Through this partnership with Skinny IT, we will now be able to provide that full-service turnkey option to consumers who need help in that final installation stage.”
Rather than building out its own “Geek Squad” like team, Circuit City’s partnership with Skinny IT allows them to have an immediately impactful footprint in the installation business with a team of certified technicians.
Back in the City
The bottom line with all of this is stated up there in the headline. Ronny Shmoel and Circuit City have roared back onto the scene. They’re here to shake up the consumer electronics retail business similar to the way Uber rocked the taxi world. They people at the helm of this new company clearly have a certain way of thinking that’s unlike anything the CE retail space has seen, and it brings with it the possibility of revitalizing an industry once thought to have one foot in the grave.
Despite the negativity experienced within the last year and all of the negative sentiments about brick and mortar retail, this industry is still kicking it. It’s not going anywhere, but it certainly needs some fresh perspectives and new ideas brought to the table.
I’m beyond excited to see what Circuit City is able to do. It’s a story that’s worth following, and one that I believe will take this industry on quite the ride over the next few years.