The death of the computer chain store

I heard on the radio a couple days ago that CompUSA is going out of business. It’s been sold to a private equity company, and the plan is its stores will be gradually liquidated. This is not the end of the computer retail chain as a fixture in our society. Now there are Apple stores, but they’re really the only ones left. The main reason these exist though is because of the iPod and iPhone. MacBooks have been selling well, but I think the sales and profits of the iPod and its successors make the computer sales pale by comparison.

This isn’t to say that you can’t buy a PC at a store after CompUSA goes away, or that you’ll only be able to buy a Mac. You can still get PCs at Circuit City and Best Buy. PCs today are becoming media devices–consumer electronics. CompUSA tried to compete with these retailers by introducing consumer electronics into their stores, but I guess they weren’t as good at it. They were good for buying some electronics though. I bought a decent Canon digital camera from CompUSA for a really good price last year.

If you still want a techie/power user PC I’d recommend a mom and pop store. I think They’re still around. Or, get one at Dell or HP (mail order).

The PC business is definitely going through a transition. Somehow I think the future of the PC is your mobile phone…or maybe your TV. It will practically disappear. In some ways this makes sense, but until the I/O interface is figured out so that people can actually use it in a sophisticated way the prospect makes me cringe.

What was the PC revolution for, anyway? Was it just a way to digitize analog media?

This has been a question in the industry for a long time. In one of my previous posts I embedded a vintage episode of The Computer Chronicles on the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. In it Gary Kildall made the comment that after buying 8-bit computers, “People have gone back to their VCRs”, and computer companies were needing something new to attract those customers back. Even then people saw computers as “media devices”, but it was more obvious they were something different from a phone or a TV. They were something you attached to a TV or monitor. What’s going on now is the maturation of the technology. Different media are being integrated together. It’ll be interactive, but centrally controlled. I suppose most people are looking forward to this future, but I’m not. Computing can be more than this if people have the vision to make it so.

—Mark Miller,

5 thoughts on “The death of the computer chain store

  1. Mark –

    Some of this ties into my blog from last week ( I think these following items are what killed this space:

    * The death of hobby/enthusiast computing. RadioShack trasitioned from an electronics hobbyist store to a computer hobbyist store. Now they are trying to transition into being a mini-BestBuy. At least they had the smarts to sell Computer City to CompUSA ages ago.
    * The Internet. CompUSA can’t compete with Newegg. Maintaining the inventory in all of those stores is hard to do profitably, it is much easier to get a single point of presense (the Web site) properly stocked without missing sales because something is out, or having inventory on hand that is obsolete.
    * As you mentioned, the device convergence. Many people do more and more computing on phones than ever before. For me, for example, spam has nearly 100% killed email. I send a lot more text messages to friends than emails, at this point. The text messages are spam free, and I know what I send won’t get caught in an overzealous filter.

    I am sure that there are more, but these are the big ones, where I sit.


  2. @Justin:

    Getting to your comments belatedly.

    Re: the death of the computer hobbyist

    Sad but true. Just a guess but I think the hobbyists have moved to the web. So while they’re programming on computers, they’re not targeting the computer they’re working on, but the web. Even though the young folks see the web as “ancient”, and don’t use it if they don’t have to, it and computers are still pretty essential for the work world. I guess that makes the computer training that teens get now in school pretty essential. They probably wouldn’t know how to work with the equipment if they didn’t.

  3. Pingback: CompUSA saved, kinda « Tekkie

  4. Pingback: The state of PCs « Tekkie

  5. The computer industry in Africa is taking a new shape! We are more into hardwares than the iphones or Ipads but i guess its coz we are a developing world

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