It's been a rough week for Best Buy. The Minneapolis-based chain has barely gotten rival Circuit City out of its hair - thanks to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and subsequent liquidation -- when word comes that Wal-Mart is angling for a piece of the electronic giant's flat-screen pie. Now, Best Buy also has to worry that its chief rival could be back, albeit as a web-only enterprise, the preferred form of zombie retail brands everywhere.
A new Circuit City website has popped up and is making the rounds of tech blogs. There's a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether or not new owner Systemax will actually pull off this resurrection. The site itself is sparse on details, promising shipping starting at $1.99 and a grand reveal "in a few days" (their words, not ours.)
For what it's worth, Systemax is experienced at this sort of thing; the company picked up the CompUSA brand name, online operations and a handful of stores at the Chapter 11 yard sale CompUSA's "restructuring specialist" held back in early 2008.
Going from brick-and-mortar to web-only has been a popular tactic for troubled brands lately. Sharper Image and Linens n' Things are two recent examples of companies that sold off their inventory and shuttered their stores, only to have their name and licenses bought out by opportunistic e-commerce visionaries.
Gone are the days, though, when a sock puppet could sell pet supplies and the mere act of converting a business into an online version of itself made everybody sit up and take notice. Department store brand Montgomery Ward, which was the subject of the largest and most complex retail bankruptcy in U.S. history, briefly reemerged as a 'net-only entity in 2004, until its new parent was sold off last year. (The Montgomery Ward name wound up in the hands of gift-basket cataloger Swiss Colony, which is trying to reboot the brand yet again.)
Consumer electronics is a tough field, and despite the departures of CompUSA and Circuit City, new entrants like Wal-Mart make it a very crowded marketplace.
Re-animator: Circuit City rises from the dead as a dot.com