Don’t Pester Customers For their Zip Code and More Radio Shack Lessons

radio shackA friend is a ham radio operator and he remembers Radio Shack from the days when it was a paradise for electronic hobbyists. He told me that at one point he hadn’t been in a Radio Shack for several years, but when he did return he thought he had walked into some kind of oddly organized stereo/television/cellphone store.

He greeted the news of Radio Shack’s bankruptcy with a little sadness, but more than that, he wondered why it took so long.

Analysts have been busy writing the company’s obituary since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February. About 2,000 stores will be closed and I suspect that its business partner, Sprint, will convert the others into mobile phone outlets.

As the friend I mentioned earlier illustrates, when Radio Shack was healthy, it was catering to electronic hobbyists and innovators. What’s ironic is that these individuals haven’t disappeared, they’ve just moved.

Unfortunately Radio Shack didn’t move with them.

What’s in a name?

The name says it all: Radio Shack. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that the number of people who actually buy a radio today can be counted on one hand. Yes, I exaggerate a little, but my point is valid. Outside of our cars, most of us have very little need for a radio, and fewer still are tinkering with radio circuitry.

However, the hobbyists and tinkerers are still around. I’m sure you know many people who have built their own computers. However, Radio Shack never seemed to be able to tap into this market.

Further, the elevation of STEM courses in our educational system should have presented a huge marketing opportunity to Radio Shack. Since its founding, Apple has worked tirelessly putting their products into the hands of students, converting them to lifelong Apple users. Radio Shack could have partnered with school districts developing programs and selling components to help educate our youth. The strategy would have bolstered the bottom line and promoted the Radio Shack brand.

It’s apparent that the market moved and Radio Shack didn’t move with it. Additionally, management made some mistakes that cost dearly.

The zip code debacle

Please excuse me while I vent on one specific customer service issue I think we all had with Radio Shack: For years you couldn’t so much as buy a battery at Radio Shack without disclosing your zip code. It was a huge – and unnecessary – annoyance. It was such a big deal that back in 2010, Con Chapman wrote a hilarious send up saying that an acquisition deal had fallen through because a hypocritical Radio Shack refused to tell the acquiring company its zip code.

The company finally dropped the policy, but it was too little, too late.

That is emblematic of how the company alienated its customers. If a company’s core business goes away and it hassles customers at the checkout counter, extinction is just a matter of time and in the case of Radio Shack, that time came on Feb. 5, 2015.

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Image: Radio Shack by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.