The new Argos catalogue is out today. I know because I picked up a copy yesterday from a shrinkwrapped pallet outside a central London store, and a mighty fat monster it is too. When did it get this huge? The Argos catalogue used to be a lot thinner, well under 500 pages, but it's since evolved into a mammoth retail encyclopaedia. The latest citrus-coloured volume has a massive 1688 pages (50% thicker than 5 years ago) and weighs in at just over four pounds. There's no need to buy any of the sets of dumbbells on page 218, just grab yourself a couple of catalogues and pump iron on the walk home.
A few catalogue highlights: » Fat pig poly-resin weather-resistant garden ornament (p60, 720/2313, £12.99) » Alba (mmm, top quality brand) DVD player (p364, 533/5382, £17.79) » Bratz fluffy pixies affair alarm clock (p872, 027/0517, £9.99) » Cubic zirconia growling bulldog pendant (p1322, 219/4749, £34.99) » Adult-size Darth Vader costume [with jumpsuit, cape and injection moulded mask] (p1448, 024/0499, £29.79) » Adult-size Wonder Woman costume [with dress, cape, boot tops, tiara and belt] (p1448, 024/2095, £39.99)
Items that used to merit no more than a page now sprawl across several spreads. There are 10 pages of tents, 48 pages of telephones and 90 pages of classy Elizabeth Duke jewellery. And, more to the point, there are twenty pages of LCD flatscreen TVs and 40 pages of sofas. You'd never be able to cart those home in a lime green carrier bag. But that doesn't matter, because the Argos emphasis is no longer on buying in store. They recognise that we don't want to queue up twice in a rundown high street shop when we can click on their website in the comfort of our own home instead. It'll cost at least £4.95 extra, and we'll have to wait 48 hours rather than ten minutes, but apparently that's what we want. The Littlewoods catalogue of the 1970s is reborn (only without the well-thumbed underwear pages).
So heaven help you if you venture into an old-school Argos showroom this morning. You'll have to battle past hordes of shoppers intent on picking up the brand new catalogue (and then probably dropping it). You'll have to hunt through a spiral-bound folder for the item number you require, then find a functioning biro to write it down. If you're lucky you'll get to queue once at the till and then again while the work experience lackeys shove your desired purchase down a hidden conveyor belt. But more likely you'll hear the plaintive cry "sorry dear, that's out of stock".
It seems that Argos's ever-thicker catalogue has an unfortunate downside. There may be more products available, but there's still only the same finite amount of space in the storeroom. Those 271/3522s and 367/1883s aren't piled high any more, so they disappear off the shelves far quicker than they ever used to [number in stock: 0]. You walk in with high hopes, but all you walk out with is a two kilogram paper brick. That was my Friday experience, anyway. Maybe next time I'll try a real shop.