What’s In a Name? The CompUSA Brand Goes Into Oblivion Along with Circuit City
Just about two months ago I received a promotional email from CompUSA. Its primary purpose was clearly to function as part of a long series of ads designed to promote the former category killer’s offerings for a hopefully prosperous holiday season beginning with Veterans Day Deals while looking forward to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and the New Year’s festivities.
There was however, a prominent note atop the piece announcing that a significant change was waiting on the company’s horizon. The note read:
‘CompUSA is changing! By December 31, we will be consolidating with TigerDirect.com, a top e-commerce brand with 41 local stores for the tech expert. Continue to shop the same great products, but with even better value. You’ll love the new Daily Deal Slasher PLUS enjoy FREE SHIPPING on thousands of products!’
This note continued to sit atop CompUSA’s promotional emails throughout the holiday season until December 27, when they were no longer branded as CompUSA but now originated from TigerDirect.com.
This prompted me to visit a long time CompUSA store to see if there were any significant changes, other than with the store’s signage. In fact there were few, the most significant reflecting distinct differences from the CompUSA which was on the verge of extinction until the concept was acquired, revived and reinvented by Systemax five years ago. Where the original chain never got into the mobile phone contract fray, current management offers an impressive myriad of mobile devices operating through contracts with AT&T and Sprint, as well as, a variety of prepaid options.
Upfront the store reminded me of a cross between what BrandsMart USA does well and what RadioShack might do if their stores had the space. Here, rows of bins offer a wide and at times odd variety of accessories often at seemingly bargain prices starting as low as $0.99. These include inexpensive digital cameras, extension cords, surge suppressors, children’s electronics games, haircut kits, back massagers, a microwave oven and even one of the currently hottest brands of headsets for just under $200. Several bins represent likely odd-lot purchases, often including items one would not expect to find in a CE superstore setting such as boxes of crayons, plastic rulers, generic post-it notes, cellophane tape and watercolors. Here attractive prices should keep customers happy and looking for more.
The rest of the store pretty much typifies what we have come to expect of CE superstores with reasonably wide aisles and fairly detailed signage at the foot of virtually every product on display. A large, distinct service center promotes data recovery and solutions for hard drive crashes. A separate and formidable Computer Repair & Optimization Center harkens back to the days when CompUSA was king of the computer category and its services were relied upon by local businesses.
As to the store’s signage, above the entrance CompUSA has been replaced by:
PCs, TVs and More!
I wondered why a name-change at all. CompUSA, while no longer a national brick and mortar presence, has been gradually growing its super-regional store presence annually. Since Systemax had taken over, its website has been aggressively promoted under the guise of CompUSA, as well as under the moniker of another Systemax acquisition, Circuit City. In fact in November, the company also announced the demise of the Circuit City brand on its website and for its email campaigns.
I asked several associates what was behind the decision to drop the once prominent trade name. My question received mostly speculative, tentative responses which seemed to be backed by little curiosity. The one answer I received which came from a definitive and interested voice, expressed the idea that at the time of CompUSA’s acquisition by Systemax after its near-demise, Systemax management discovered that CompUSA had earned an unenviable reputation with vendors and manufacturers as well as a waning reputation with consumers. The feeling is that the time had come to get out from under the old brand and get behind the buying power of TigerDirect.com.
My questions wondered why get rid of an expressive brand name whose inherent shortcoming might be that its scope seemed limited to computers as was the intent when it was created in 1991. This was a reflection of the then young and growing computer market years before computer sales became just another facet of the consumer electronics retail scene. Still, doesn’t the name CompUSA express far more as to this retailer’s offerings and purpose than TigerDirect?
This curious change of name reminds me of an Insight that appeared in this space less than a year ago, in February 2012. It was titled, Overstocking a Great Brand To O.co blivion. The piece noted Overstock.com’s then current advertising campaign which was attempting to replace the Overstock.com brand with a new name and site address O.co. The Insight questioned the value of the change from a naturally easy to interpret brand name Overstock.com, to what one must assume corporate brass expected to express a trendy, new age profile based on a simple O and the .com slimmed down to .co.
Several professionals found themselves unable to readily locate O.co as they were basing their search on a site they thought they had heard on the commercial and come away with O.com. Apparently they were not nearly alone. One would think that in short time the .co would have stuck and become ordinary parlance. However, the inherent value and power of the Overstock.com brand simply told the story so efficiently that it remains the company’s trademark and continues to lead at the head of the company’s website and in web searches.
One has to wonder if the TigerDirect brand connotes a clear and efficient corporate image the way CompUSA did. Or is this another case of replacing a brand which virtually tells a corporate story with one with little apparent connection to a corporate goal?