The days of an electronics store with personality are over. Fry’s Electronics was a big box store chain with 31 locations in nine states, mostly on the west coast. Their stores were an experience, as some locations had various themes. Walk into a Fry’s and the customer could see spaceships, Aztec designs, or an oil industry theme at one of their Texas locations.
The real draw to a trip to Fry’s Electronics was their selection. For the hardcore tech nerds, they had things you weren’t going to find while browsing at a Best Buy. In the Seattle area, Frys was located near Boeing for a reason. Employees at tech companies were their ideal customer base.
With the announcement came the shutdown of their online store. Physical locations are closing nearly immediately. If you have something in the repair shop at a Fry’s Electronics location, you’re advised to get in touch and pick your equipment up as soon as possible.
Even though it’s not surprising that Fry’s Electronics is shutting down, it still came as a shock to many, if only in the sense that they wished it wasn’t true. There were rumors a month prior that the chain was going bankrupt.
While the pandemic worsened conditions for Fry’s Electronics, the chain hadn’t been doing well for years. In the early 2010s, most electronic stores were facing difficulties. For a while, Best Buy looked like they were going to go under. A lot of the strategies Best Buy used were also employed by Fry’s. For example, Fry’s price matched with online vendors. They had an online store as well so you could have items shipped to you. However, when Best Buy wasn’t doing well, they did a major overhaul of their employee culture. They hired a new CEO and changed the way their website was handled. They adapted to the market as it was, innovated, and are now very successfully selling laptops and other electronics that became more necessary in 2020 for remote workers.
If there is only one key area where Best Buy managed to beat out the competition, it has to be the Geek Squad. Their customer support team is branded, making it memorable, and incredibly useful. Customers who don’t know how to use their complicated electronics can always consult the Geek Squad. If you don’t know how to install your TV, the team at Best Buy will come to your house and help you do so. That gives them an edge over Amazon. Fry’s Electronics appealed more to the hardcore nerd who doesn’t want help. With the internet making it easier to source obscure tech parts, there wasn’t a lot of reason for their customer base to stay loyal to their stores.
Neil Saunders of GlobalData told AP News that he felt the themes of Fry’s Electronics locations were more of a hindrance than an experience for customers. That may be true, particularly today when customers aren’t visiting physical locations. However, as the announcement of the chain closing spread, people took to Twitter to share their disappointment. Many of those posts focused on how fun they felt the themes for their local location had been.
Visiting a Fry’s Electronics store was fun for the themes. It was fun because the stores were huge. You could find any random tech part you were looking for. When the chain began in the mid-1980s, there wasn’t anywhere else for hardcore tech types to get their kicks. Unsurprisingly, their first location was in Silicon Valley. If you were a music-enthusiast, you hung out at the record store. If you were a tech nerd, Fry’s Electronics was the place to be.
While these were great qualities, there were parts of the customer experience they could have greatly improved. For example, going in and out of the store made you feel like you were suspected of hiding a washing machine under your shirt. The security measures were intense enough that you had to be impressed whenever they were seriously robbed. For a tech store, their website design could have been easier to use. The list of faults likely goes on, but for the shoppers who loved the nostalgia of the big box tech store, Fry’s Electronics will be missed.