California-based Fry’s Electronics is going out of business. It struggled for years to compete with Amazon, but the pandemic did them in. Fry’s is the latest in a series of brick-and-mortars going under, including Radio Shack, Toys R Us and Payless Shoes.
The reaction to Fry’s going under has been sentimental. Many customers have fond memories of the chain’s oddball stores, with themes like Alice in Wonderland or outer space.
According to Harry McCracken, tech editor for Fast Company, Fry’s demise was long signposted. Even pre-pandemic, it struggled with empty shelves and a new consignment-based business model.
“Over a year ago, people were wondering whether Fry’s was about to go out of business. They announced that they were shifting to this new business model based on consignment, where they would only pay their suppliers for products once Fry’s had sold them,” McCracken says. “And the result was that these enormous stores had almost nothing on the shelves — they were about 95% empty.”
He says the model was a far cry from Fry’s peak business years. “They had an incredibly large number of products. And in their heyday, they probably had whatever you were looking for,” he says. “There was no way to go online. It was the era when the big box store was the ultimate, and Fry’s was the ultimate technology big box store.”
McCraken points out that Fry’s demise might have been prevented, but it faced difficulties when confronted with new technologies and the rise of Amazon.
“It's difficult for almost any retailer to compete with Amazon. There was a long period where Fry’s seemed to have absolutely no interest in selling online,” he says. “Once they did start, not only was their website not good competition for Amazon, it really didn't feel all that much like the Fry’s experience that people liked in the real world.”
But he notes that some technology big box stores have succeeded — even amid the pandemic — like Best Buy.
But overall, he says the technological mainstream has drifted away from PCs and desktop computers.
“Technology now revolves around smartphones. And if your tech world is about using Instagram on your smartphone, it's not completely clear how Fry’s fits into that equation in the way it did in the old days.”