I went to a Circuit City

The day before yesterday I entered a Circuit City. I don’t recall the last time I’d been in one — I’m more of a Best Buy man myself, although only when I must; I tend to purchase electronics almost exclusively online — but the uniform red-and-silver trimmings were just as I remembered from a few years ago. The store itself was staffed entirely by children, but then again I was in a college town. A few glanced at me as I walked through the vestibule and between the beige plastic shoplifting sentries, then returned to their business.

I was there to buy something into which to plug an iPod, a gift for some friends I’ve been staying with over the last few days. Nothing fancy. Just something for the living room better than the little alarm clock that had been hauled in from the bedroom.

My affinity for online purchasing was such that I considered actually just having something overnighted from Amazon, but I’d been enjoying the benefits of suburban life while I could experience them and thought browsing through a store sampling sound systems might be a nice change of pace, especially for something as subjective as speakers.

It could have been. I quickly learned, for instance, that the iPod-only speaker docks available for $80 or so were sonically inferior to the slightly more expensive generic shelf systems that just happened to have iPod docks built in. It stands to reason: a bigger speaker tends to sound more full than a smaller one, at least when you’re talking about cheap ones. (There’s no replacement for displacement. I don’t think that actually applies here but I like the way it sounds.) There just weren’t that many different iPod docks on display. Maybe half-a-dozen.

I ended up bringing home a Sony shelf system that wasn’t actually up for display, completely obviating the benefit of trying it out before I bought it. It was between the Sony and a unit from Sharp. While I didn’t actually try them out side by side, I kind of think the Sharp sounded better — but the Sony looked much classier (if you ignored the unlacquered plywood on the back of the speakers).

It was all so dreary. There’s a certain excitement to a big box store. Despite my love of Brooklyn and its small shop culture, there’s no denying I get a kick out of walking into a great big warehouse and knowing I can walk out with something adequate right then and there. (And there are plenty of big box stores in Brooklyn like Costco that I frequent, so don’t give me any guff. I can like both!)

But there was something sad about Circuit City — this one, at least — that made all the recent concern of its financial woes apparent. It’s just not a nice place to shop. The products offered are mediocre, in general. The employees were perfectly nice, but completely unknowledgeable about the products they sold. If it weren’t for convenience, I can’t imagine a single reason why I’d want to shop there in the future. It may have taken a few years, but I suspect the rest of the country is starting to discover the same thing.

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12 Responses to I went to a Circuit City

  1. hohum says:

    I only go there for the reason #5 states, and when I do go… Even a cheap-as-hell video game can’t perk my mood back up. Dismal place. And, while it’s easy to say that the employees of big box stores never really know what they’re talking about, CC is the absolute worst. At my CC the employees don’t even know the layout of the store, at all, just their little corner… Even Walmart employees seem to know better than that, they just don’t give enough of a shit to actually tell you. Sad, sad place.

  2. Brian Carnell says:

    I’ve visited Circuit Cities in a number of cities and a) they all look like crap on the interior, b) the layout of items makes no sense, and c) the employees are useless.

    A couple months ago I was at a Circuit City in Novi, MI because I needed a USB cable that I’d left at home. It took forever to find, and then I couldn’t find a place to actually pay for the item — all of what appeared to be registers had multiple employees congregating around them, but none could actually take my money.

    I had to go up to service desk to pay where first I got to hear several employees complaining about what a jerk their manager was and planning who was going to call in sick for Sunday’s shift vs. next Sunday’s shift.

    For most businesses this would have been a very negative experience, but it’s not like CC has a stellar reputation that nonsense like this could harm.

  3. Logotu says:

    My first reaction to the title was “Oh, I’m sorry!” But then I realized it had been years since I had been into a Circuit City. Jeez, almost a decade, in fact (it had left such a negative impression on me I was still avoiding it years later), maybe it’s gotten better. Then I read the article. No, it may even have gotten worse. I will continue to avoid the place.

  4. Agies says:

    I find myself using stores like BB and CC as extensions of their online stores. I do most of my research online including checking to see if the item is in stock and then go pick up whatever it is. I think the last time I was in a CC I bought my TV and that was only because the thought of having a 32 inch TV shipped was frightening. Having a physical location close to me where I can return a big ticket item like that is comforting. (Computers don’t count because the online outlets have contingencies for this)

  5. obi1kenobi1 says:

    Yeah, I went to a Circuit City last December looking for a cheap record stylus that I had seen on their web site. They only had one stylus in the whole store, and while it was the same model, it had extra connections I didn’t need, which I assumed cost more because online they had 2 models, one with the minimum hardware and one with both connections that cost twice as much. It took almost 20 minutes to find someone to help me. There were probably 4 customers in the entire store, and even fewer employees. Once I did find someone, they they didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about, as if they had never even heard of a record player, while in reality Circuit City actually sells like 3 different models (none of which use the stylus they had in stock, ironically). All they did was look in the same place I had been looking and then ask someone from the television department if they had heard of what I was looking for. It turns out the one I had was the same price as the one I was looking for, but it would have helped if someone had tried to look it up on the store computer or help me in some way. I think it is fair to expect that someone who works in an electronics store know at least something about electronics.

    At my local Circuit City, this is how it has always been. The unknowledgeable staff and mediocre products are just a part of the circuit city experience. The only reason I go there is when I know something will be cheaper there than Best Buy or any other ‘Big Box’ stores.

  6. KurtMac says:

    I worked in a Circuit City during the holiday season 3 years ago, and I’d have to say the feeling was mutual on the other side of the register. I was placed in the digital camera section, since I already knew a good deal about the subject. It was rather depressing and frustrating to be surrounded by co-workers who where either A) unknowledgeable teenagers who only work there for the employee discount or B) sad, middle-aged men who you want to grab by the collar and yell “You’re 38 years old! What are you doing working the registers at a Circuit City?!”

    However, I found that there were quite a few customers who blissfully went about shopping there, as if they’ve never heard of this thing called “Internet Shopping.” They seemed to accept that the abysmal in-store inventory was the extent of their product choice, would purchase every accessory suggested and would even ask to add the extended warranty before I even had a chance to recite the required sales pitch. Though, these days, as you suggest, I think even these people are starting to catch on and do their shopping elsewhere.

  7. shanefer says:

    Circuit city was recently downgraded from my full time job (in-home computer tech), to my part time job, and I’ve been there for about 4 years. Their CEO’s biggest mistake was about 2 years ago getting rid of their salaried, bonus paid, mature department managers who had generally been with the company for a while, and replacing them with hourly “supervisors”. Apparently it’s a technique that is working for Best Buy, but it was a horrible idea for Circuit City. Between that, and the decision they made right before that to lay off all of the employees that were above the salary cap for their position, they got rid of some really great people. They then replaced them with low-paid people who generally aren’t engaged in customer service, or particularly knoledgeable. It’s really sad, and I am very glad the CEO just stepped down. I hope his replacement does a much better job, and my CC stock with soon again be valuable!

  8. David Stein says:

    (First – it’s not really fair to criticize CC, BB, or any other store as having “uninformed sales people.” The fact that we’re discussing this at BoingBoing means we’re above average in technical aptitude. Look at the flip side: any sales dude who’s sufficiently tech-minded to read Slashdot can get a hell of a lot better job than Best Buy sales smurf.)

    (That aside…)

    CC has *always* been dreary. Maybe it’s more so now, but only incrementally.

    Best Buy is for geeks – people who aren’t quite enginerdy enough to pick out components at Fry’s (or even CompUSA), but who can tell you what a USB hard drive is. And BB caters to them by offering a decent-ish selection.

    Circuit City is a very large step down the food chain. They tilt toward the commodity market – the folks who base their opinions on shiny packaging, brand names, and price-as-quality-indicator. It’s for the Joe Sixpack who doesn’t know or care about 1080p or HDMI or HDCP or RTFM, but JUST WANTS A BIG-ASS TEE VEE.

    Put another way: Best Buy tops out their geekiness scale with simple under-the-hood components, like memory sticks and heat sinks. Circuit City bottoms out with a large selection of La-Z-Boy recliners.

    Of course we find it dreary, its products uninspired and obsolete, its presentation too bland and lacking in gee-whizziness. That’s because it’s not our store. You may as well criticize the lack of options in WiMax-enabled gadgets at your local Brookstone.

    But is this wrong?

    Nah. We techno-geeks place heavy stock in specs and features and backwards-compatibility, but that’s just our culture. Different strokes for different folks. Live and let live. The world is a happier place if we let go of elitism, and just… be groovy.

    Besides… we can *totally* pwn them at Counter-Strike.

  9. skramble says:

    oh yeah, circuit city is the lamest place to buy electronics. avoid it if at all possible. only if go if you know exactly what you want from them and the price is good.

    these days, they are more or less like a glorified radio shack.

  10. Enochrewt says:

    I’m also with #5, they’ve been trying to bring in the videogame business for a while now, and they do some excellent deals. Like if they don’t have a game on release day, you get a $20 gift card.

    I have one other good reason for shopping there. The Circuit City that I frequent has a lone (underage) girl that works so hard, and kicks so much ass, that it almost feels like a crime to not shop there. The first time I saw her, I helped her with another customer that was cluelessly buying ram, and since this girl’s good intentions far outweigh her knowledge (she wasn’t even in her assigned department), she was in over her head. She hasn’t forgotten me since then, and has always gone the extra mile to get me the best deal within CC’s policies and pricing.

  11. A New Challenger says:

    They have killer deals on games occasionally. Even better than one would think, as many items are seldom restickered with the correct price. There was madness and shocked cashiers when they had the 1/2 off PC games sale earlier this year.

  12. CraziestGadgetsdotcom says:

    “Despite my love of Brooklyn and its small shop culture, there’s no denying I get a kick out of walking into a great big warehouse and knowing I can walk out with something adequate right then and there.”

    clearly you were not in the Brooklyn Circuit City at Atlantic Terminal which looks like a sample sale after being ransacked by a horde of cheap fashionistas. There might as well be a huge sign outside saying “not in stock, check the website”.

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