Good Riddance, Radio Shack

It’s just not the same store I loved as a child.

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On Tuesday, Radio Shack announced that it would be closing 1,100 of its stores — nearly 20 percent of the company’s locations. During the last quarter, which included the normally busy Christmas-shopping season, Radio Shack sales fell 19 percent while net losses reportedly tripled. There are 20 Radio Shack stores in the Philadelphia area, but it remains unclear which of them will be affected.

This is a big business story, especially because Radio Shack has more stores in this country than almost any retailer (Walmart has 3,700 and Radio Shack competitor BestBuy has 1,400), and no doubt some pundits and prognosticators are going to chalk this up to a sluggish economy. But the real cause for Radio Shack closing 1,110 stores is none other than Radio Shack, which is quite simply and without hyperbole the worst retail shopping experience that exists on planet Earth.




Oh, I didn't always hate Radio Shack. No, quite the contrary.

When I was a kid in the ’70s and early ’80s, I used to love love love Radio Shack. My paternal grandfather Pop-Pop, an Italian immigrant who always called the store Radio Shack, as opposed to the more common emphasis of Radio Shack, was an avid amateur radio operator (call letters: W3VWY). We would stop by the Radio Shack near him in Norristown to get solder wire and various connectors, resistors and the like.

My Uncle Joe, Pop-Pop's son, was a Navy man. He sailed the seven seas. But Uncle Joe would always find a way to get home for Christmas, and while my sister would get diamond jewelry from Israel or Southeast Asia, Uncle Joe gave me presents from Radio Shack, like the Radio Shack Junior Electricity Kit. I built potato clocks, AM radios, and electromagnets, thanks to Uncle Joe and Radio Shack. I used a Radio Shack cassette recorder to save BASIC programs that I wrote on my Texas Instrument TI-99/4A "computer."

And as a teenager, my interest in electronics not waning, I purchased all sorts of Radio Shack kits, wiring and components. I remember when I was 15, my parents found an alligator clip from Radio Shack on my dresser. They thought I was using it as a roach clip, but the truth is that I was using it for a project. We had a big conversation about marijuana, a "not under my roof" kind of talk. And because I continued to deny that the clip was drug paraphernalia, they grounded me for a week.

So, as you can see, my formative years were spent in and around Radio Shack, and I have a lot of nostalgia for those great, quirky little shops.

But the Radio Shack of today bears no resemblance to the Radio Shack of yesteryear.

Radio Shack's customer service in 2014 makes your experience at the DMV seem downright pleasant. When you walk into a Radio Shack, there seem to be far too many people working inside the store. The customer-to-salesperson ratio is like the student-teacher ratio in a special needs school.

And yet, you'll wait forever to get help, and the help that you will eventually receive is largely incompetent. And if you actually know something about electronics and start asking questions that threaten the salespeople by pointing out the gaping holes in their knowledge base and basic human intelligence, they might ask you something like, "Oh, so you don't know about the new A-410-PR-99 Apex Ring that was just deployed?" Of course, there's no such thing as an A-410-PR-99 Apex Ring.

Radio Shack employees know little or nothing about electronics, but they are quite happy to sell you a T-Mobile plan you don't need.

And Radio Shack products are the lowest of the low. You're better off buying knockoff "Panasoanic" stuff on Canal Street in New York.

I recently bought an audio cable at Radio Shack, simply because I needed one at the last minute and it was the only place I could get one (I actually asked a friend to go get the cable for me, because I couldn't bear the thought of going to the store myself). That was three weeks ago. I used the cord three times. I've already thrown it away, because one of the connections became wonky. Radio Shack products are basically single-use items, like those cheap Kodak disposable cameras we all used to buy at the airport 15 years ago.

It's always sad when a company shuts its doors or lays off workers. But let's be honest: In this case, Radio Shack brought it on itself.

Good riddance, Radio Shack. May your death be quick and painless.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.

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  • jamie joffe

    This is a perfect example of how retailers in the CE channel continue to crash and burn – customer service is still key to the experience, and Radio Shack majorly failed by hiring under qualified sales staff.

  • shackworker

    so i hope im not a sterotypical radioshack employee…ive met a lot of people working here that know thier stuff but i will say the wages that are paid dont attract the brightest people. I think more than anything the internet is hurting radioshack because everyday i hear i seen that cable online for three bucks. With that being said i really dont like that you just bashed all radioshack employees.

  • Happy

    I remember when it was Allied Radio Shack. It was a merger with Allied Radio of Chicago. Allied was known for its kits. I had a nice short wave radio that I built. It was superregenerative. Anyone remember what that was?

  • They_Call_Me_Bruce

    Worst part of Radio Shack is the upselling and general data mining. You can’t just buy what you came for, you have to be bombarded with an endless series of questions. Do you need batteries, a warranty, added to the email list, mid giving us your phone number, etc. I just came in for a watch battery buddy.

  • Ewband

    Do you remember the free-battery-per-month-card from the 70’s? I had the same experience growing up – My grandfather was an RCA engineer and bought me all of the electronics kits. Great stuff then. Now? December 2013 to be exact…
    Me: I only need this fan power cord.
    RS Guy: Looks like your iPhone needs an upgrade.
    Me: No, no, my phone is fine. Please let me pay for this cord.
    RS Guy: Yes, well we don’t have your phone in stock, but it will only take a few weeks to get one in. But we’ll match a price.
    Me: Are you sure this is the correct voltage fan plug?
    RS Guy: What’s your zip code? You know, T-Mobile is the bes…
    Me: I’ll buy an in-stock phone at Verizon, today, if I needed one. Can I buy this cord?

    RS Guy: How’s about a full warranty for your Realistic Dual Cassette Tape Deck?
    Check off the pop-in to the 6th circle of Hell from the bucket list…Check.

  • Melvin

    The sales folks don’t even know what they have on the shelves very often. They are poorly trained and poorly paid, and they will not last too long on the job. RS refused to change their business properly into an internet savy electronics store. They could have been a brick & mortar outlet for Amazon and training center for students to learn hands-on, etc.

  • SuperChristopher2518 .

    When I was an undergraduate student in 2000, I worked to support myself. At one point, I decided to trade in the late nights of restaurants for the regular hours of retail. Radio Shack just happened to be 10 minutes walking distance from my house. While it was not the worst job possible, it was a frustrating experience. Since earning decent money was linked with sales commission, the sales goals were dictated by the corporate office. Sell Sprint mobile phones, even if you knew wouldn’t work in the region. Sell Spring telephones, even though you would be better off with two cans and some string. Sell Compaq computers, even though they were horrendously outdates at that point. Sell anything from the re-branded Tandy electronics line, even if you knew it was clearly inferior to other options in the store. I’m not even going to elaborate on irritation heaped on customers by asking for their name, address and phone number for “the purpose of providing you sales flyers for our exciting products.” (cough, market research). It certainly didn’t speed up the check-out process. Only a handful of people in our store understood how to communicate with the amateur radio people and address their needs, but their customer base was niche (read, very small) and they were reviled by regional managers for not sell the more lucrative products. I had some good experiences at Radio Shack, genuinely happy to sell parents remote controlled cars for Christmas gifts, but the bad experiences and poor paychecks are more memorable. I loved inventory days, staying through the night counting and recounting batteries only to discover that (duh) people steal them quite easily. I enjoyed the times we had to call the police to escort irate customers out the door. I enjoyed being yelled at for products that either did not work or had very limited life spans. Eventually, the less stressful workplace of restaurants and better money compelled me to quit my lone retail adventure. With a slogan like “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers” (cringe), you would think they would have a forward thinking business plan. Instead, their plan was to push crappy products and irritate customers. Ultimately, we will only remember for those last two corporate decisions.

  • jusanotherboomer

    Hmmm…. I worked there too… not the worst of places at the time.
    In my opinion, when the “toys” became feature items beyond the electronics…. everything started to go downhill!

  • Starboard

    I ran a seven-store consumer electronics retail chain in New York City in the 1980s. Those were the days of Tech Hi-Fi, Crazy Eddie, The Wiz and Circuit City. (Best Buy wasn’t even around then.) It was wild, highly competitive retail gamesmanship in an industry just exploding into the mass market. “Don’t let ‘em walk!” was our motto.

    Except to Radio Shack. That was the one place my salespeople were free to send a customer. Even then everybody knew Radio Shack was a joke.

  • davethewave

    Good article…I found it interesting that your parents knew what other uses an alligator clip might have. Hmmmm…

  • james

    Thank you for writing exactly what I have been thinking for some time now. You are spot-on.