RadioShack and its Operational Missteps


In February 2015, RadioShack, once a leading provider of consumer electronics, filed for bankruptcy after years of declining same-store sales and net losses. While numerous factors contributed to the precipitous decline in the company’s financial health, RadioShack’s poor financial performance was largely driven by a misalignment between its business model and its operating model. That is, the company’s operating model was inappropriate given the shifting habits of its customers.

RadioShack’s Business and Operating Model

RadioShack’s business model was to serve as the trusted retailer for the sale of a variety of consumer electronics (including wireless communications, electronic parts, batteries, accessories and other digital technology products and services)[1]. RadioShack’s operating model was largely focused on delivering products and services to customers through its 4,400 physical brick and mortar stores[2].

This was accomplished through:

  • Small-sized stores in convenient locations providing a limited quantity of a wide assortment of products
  • Merchandise mix with a growing emphasis on mobile devices (Mobile devices accounted for 51% of RadioShack’s $4.38 billion in sales in 2011, up from 44% the year before)[3]
  • Superior customer service through sales associates with strong knowledge of company products

In this model, RadioShack’s competitive advantage lay in its ability to quickly serve customers by providing a broad range of products in a more intimate retail setting. Its smaller store size and its company-owned and franchise stores positioned “in every corner of the American heartland” allowed it to provide excellent customer service and differentiate itself from its competitors[3].

Misalignment between RadioShack’s business model and its operating model

However, shifts in the competitive environment generated new business challenges for RadioShack and it failed to adapt its operating model to compete in this new business climate. Company management failed to understand the growing importance of omnichannel retailing in the purchase of electronics and the need to tailor its operations to serve online customers. Customers of electronics would often consult online sources prior to making a purchase such that retailers operating exclusively through physical brick and mortar stores were used increasingly as a showroom, a place where products could be tested before being purchased online. This was exacerbated by the growing importance of online retailers like Amazon and eBay in the consumer electronics industry. Due to having lower cost structures, these competitors were able to experience operational efficiencies and sell the same products that RadioShack sold at a considerable discount.

As the competitive landscape shifted and RadioShack’s business and operating models became misaligned, RadioShack should have invested heavily in developing a strong digital presence. However, the company continued to operate an unusually high number of stores given years of declining demand for its products in its stores and shifts in consumer buying habits. Furthermore, store selection was poorly managed and in certain regions with a high concentration of stores, the company’s stores cannibalized each other[4]. Both the number and the location of RadioShack stores should have been managed in light of customer preferences. Lastly, poor inventory management (limited offering of products vs. its online competitors) also played a role as the company faced complaints that its offerings didn’t provide the full spectrum of products that customers were seeking[4].

Human resources and financial capital should have been leveraged to target an increasing pool of online customers. This would have included developing warehouses for distributing its products to online customers and working with suppliers to expand the breadth of its offerings through a digital platform. However, despite the potential to improve its digital presence, the company continued to invest in its retail stores hoping that a remodel of its stores would boost company performance[5]. New store features included:

  • A speaker wall where customers could shop and compare different speakers using music installed on in-store tablets or played from their own Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices[6]
  • Interactive displays (touch screens and apps) that enabled shoppers to find and compare products[6]

This continued emphasis on its retail stores given the growth of online sales of consumer electronics demonstrated a misalignment between its operations and its primary business objectives.









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Student comments on RadioShack and its Operational Missteps

  1. I remember going to RadioShack to pick up supplies to tinker with electronics, something that seems to be less practical these days. After all, pretty much all of our electronic toys are un-upgradable and sealed to us these days. It makes sense, too, that all those folks who were dedicated tinkerers would be fine moving to online channels and communities. I wonder if RadioShack could have leveraged it’s community in the early days and built up an omnichannel experience.

  2. Great post. The story of Radio Shack reads similar to that of Circuit City. Both retailers were highly successful, but failures to recognize the changing competitive landscape, coupled with product mix and e-commerce issues, spelled their demise. I also agree with Gavin that Radio Shack should’ve catered more to the maker/tinkerer market. This seems like an underserved segment.

  3. Solid post that parallels the fate of many brick and mortar stores in this category. However, the one thing I struggle with when thinking about this as a manager is how do you get ahead of disruptive trends like the emergence of e-commerce? For instance, I can see many circumstances in which Radio Shack started to invest in digital and still ended up as you have detailed above. This also makes me think about Best Buy, they are the last of the large electronics brick and mortar stores – I wonder why this is. Specifically, is it a result of their pretty formidable digital presence or are they the beneficiaries of good luck and that the market in fact has capacity for one brick and mortar electronics outlet – primary used for show-rooming products.

  4. Great choice of company and summary of misalignment.

    Since you mentioned Amazon and eBay with lower costs leading to lower prices, I wonder if you can comment on Best Buy’s business model and how RadioShack’s business model – specifically sticking with retail stores – may or may not different from each other. At least Best Buy has had positive cash flow 3 of the last 4 years, and most recently a health jump in net income.


  5. Thanks for the interesting post. I’d also be interested in your thoughts on Best Buy and how they’ve been able to survive vs. RadioShack. They both have similar business models that seemed destined to fail to Amazon and WalMart but Best Buy was able to make some changes to keep it alive – shutting underperforming stores, partnering with certain suppliers (Samsung), price matching, etc… Was RadioShack simply too slow or set in their ways to make these changes?


  6. I see your point that a shift to online would have extended RadioShack’s lifetime, but I’m not confident that this online move would have been sufficient for the company’s survival. The online channel for electronics is saturated and RadioShack may have struggled to achieve scale and beat the ecommerce companies on cost.

    I wonder if they could have won under a modified offline strategy, perhaps in one where they partner with brands and build a really pleasant in-store experience (e.g. showrooming for fancy home surround sound systems). But even this would not have been sufficient since shoppers would have come to RadioShack to get educated and enjoy the showrooming experience but ultimately buy from Amazon. Perhaps they could have differentiated on product uniqueness, or customization, or other value added services (e.g. where they assemble / install electronics for the customer).

  7. RadioShack was definitely a story of falling behind market trends and offline stores evolution. I wonder whether this was a bad offline offer or a bad strategy for shift to the online channel

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