RadioShack To Be Reborn As Online-First Retailer

The good news is that as of today RadioShack has officially been purchased by Retail Ecommerce Ventures (REV), giving the troubled company a new lease on life. The downside, at least for folks like us, is that there are no immediate plans to return the iconic electronics retailer to its brick-and-mortar roots. As the name implies, REV specializes in online retail, having previously revamped the Internet presence of other bankrupt businesses such as Pier 1 Imports and Dressbarn.

While the press release doesn’t outright preclude the possibility of new physical RadioShack locations, it’s clear that REV believes the future of retail isn’t to be found in your local strip mall. As the US mulls further lockdowns in response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to disagree. There will be millions of bored kids and adults looking for something to do during the long winter nights, and an electronic kit or two shipped to their door might be just the thing.

REV says they plan to relaunch the rather dated RadioShack website just in time for the company’s 100th anniversary in 2021. As of this writing the website currently says that sales have been temporarily halted to allow for inventory restructuring, though it’s unclear if this is directly related to the buyout or not. Getting an accurate count of how much merchandise the company still has on hand after shuttering the majority of their physical locations in 2017 certainly sounds like something the new owners would want to do.

Like most of you, we have fond memories of the Golden Age of RadioShack, back before they thought selling phones and TVs was somehow a good idea. To their credit, they did try and rekindle their relationship with hackers and makers by asking the community what they’d want to see in their stores. But we all know how that story ended. While it doesn’t look like this news will get us any closer to having a neighborhood store that stocks resistors, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that RadioShack kits and books will still be around for the next generation.

94 thoughts on “RadioShack To Be Reborn As Online-First Retailer

    1. Why is it a curse that one can buy USB cables at a convenience store? Why is it a problem when one can buy a replacement router after 5 PM on a Saturday? Are we supposed to wait until Monday when the Radio Shack opens? I don’t understand.

    2. I mean it’s a shame the shack had to become a cell phone junk store at all. Wish there were enough ham demand still for them to have stayed a store where you go to rummage through endless drawers of little components. I guess mobiles are technically radios, but I have no idea how anybody finds them fun. Guess I’m old.

      1. Lest we forget, the components used to be prominently displayed on wall sized peg boards. They only got crammed into the little drawers to help free up space for the wretched phones.

        (And just before that, all those not-quite-100% compatible PC clones. But that’s another axe to grind)

        1. I worked at a RadioShack Dealer that is still actually open. When the parts drawers were being pushed, our store’s owner vehemently rejected switching from pegboard to drawers. I went in there a couple weeks ago and everything was still proudly displayed on pegboard hangers.

  1. But is it even worth it? It would be just another online retail store. I don’t think the nostalgia for the Radio Shack brand is strong enough to make this work. Adafruit and Sparkfun are so successful not because of the items they sell (a lot of which let’s be honest you can get for less on eBay) but because they are a part of (and help advance) the maker/DIY culture and community. It’s their extremely good documentation, open source designs, tutorials, libraries and project idea pages that really make them worth coming back to, along with excellent customer support. If this new RadioShack is just yet another soulless e-store selling Arduino boards and servos and stuff, I don’t expect them to gain much market share.

    1. I live near a Microcenter retail store in TX, and they have been experiencing near Black Friday sales volumes on a daily basis the last four months. There is a hunger, in some product categories, to lay hands on a product before buying it. If the new company can reign in costs, and slowly build up store locations smartly, carrying other manufacturer’s products, it could be successful.

      There are many people that only know Best Buy for personal electronics – the space is ready for a new retailer, provided they can avoid the pitfalls of previous electronics retailers Circuit City, CompUSA, etc…

      1. Somewhat ironically, MicroCenter was founded by ex-Radio Shack employees. For quite some time they had a claim to fame that no store had ever been closed down, though I think that may have finally happened somewhere.
        A much better run company.

        1. Micro Center closed a store in Santa Clara in 2012. It got too expensive to do business in Silicon Valley. They have not opened a new store in that area; they do have one in Tustin CA, near Los Angeles. So far as I know, that’s their only location that has disappeared.

          Micro Center also closed its original Houston store in 2014. But that was replaced by a new store a mile and a half away.

        1. They could try a vending machine approach to selling parts, albeit with the larger/more expensive parts in a vending machine and the less expensive parts (resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc) sold by one of those gumball/toy machines you occasionally see in malls or near store exits.

          Set these up in a mall (or maybe even a hardware store) with some Forest M. Mims III electronics notebooks for a low price (or even free) for the kids and budding Makers/Hackers.

          Now those parts may be a little more expensive then you’d find online but really that’s just a convenience charge for being able to buy it NOW without having to wait for shipping and paying for S&H.

    2. It would be more worthwhile if they still had the local stores, if they shipped from the closest store with the item in stock. That’d provide relatively quick, cheap shipping because it’d be coming from your own town or nearby. Ordering online for pickup would also be an option.

      But that ship has sailed.

    3. I contacted the “Maker” rep at Radio Shack a few times and told her they needed to emulate Adafruit and Sparkfun if they wanted to really turn things around. I totally agree that those company’s value is in their community rather than their parts per se. I go to their websites just to learn how to do stuff and see what’s new. Radio Shack never got that.

      1. And if they can avoid the politics that Adafruit seems to think I need to be told about they will do even better. Sparkfun doesn’t preach to me and for that gets more of my business. Something all sites ought to consider.

    4. “But is it even worth it?”

      No. Everything anyone could need is already readily available on-line. The only advantage of Radio Shack was immediate availability by driving to a local store. Amazon free one day shipping for many items for Prime members even reduces that advantage.

  2. Darn I wrote out a long comment that got erased accidentally. Anyway I was gonna say, I don’t think nostalgia alone is going to be enough to make it worth it. Adafruit and Sparkfun among others are successful because of what they offer beyond the product, which to be honest you could probably get on eBay from China for less.

  3. Actually they already are. But yes the website is indeed dated. It is still the crappy one they had up during the period when they had stores. I won’t relate one story concerning a device I bought physically after confirming it existed online, and got into a nearly physical argument with the idiot of a clerk concerning the price…. I wrote the site a note concerning the problem. And then she was gone. However… My problem is trying to find a big batch of cables that they were selling earlier….

  4. I checked out their stuff in Hobby Town, and they didnt have much that I wanted or needed.
    Now if they stocked Analog Devices xxxxblah, I might pick one up and maybe use it eventually.
    Would be cool if they partnered with a distributor such as Mouser, etc and had a small cache of items that are used often for a given metro….those potential partners do have the data of what is used where to make that possible.

    1. Once upon a time, Canadian-based Future Electronics operated a chain of electronics stores, Active Electronics. They had a much better stock of components than Radio Shack did, at better prices. Alas, they seem to have concluded it was a failure; they first closed all the US stores, and then most of the stores in Canada. A few stores in Canada continue to operate under the name Active Tech; they are no longer connected to Future.

      The Active Electronics stores in Australia are not related.

      1. Well Active existed for decades. They just seemed to fade.

        As I recall, it was Future Electronics that we first went to, about 1975. A little reception room, you filled out a form and the order was filled. It was a big thing because they were willing to deal with walkin business, and a small minimum order. Then the store morphed to Active, and a bigger area to walk into, but still for most items you filled out a form. Slowly more stuff was prepackaged, so you couldn’t buy a single a single 7486, but a few. I thought the chain expanded from here, but it’s been a long time.

        But I was always under tye impression that it wasn’t just for hobbyists. They counted on students needing parts for projects, and businesses needing smaller quantity parts.

        And then at some point they were gone.

        Like Radio Shack, times changed and what was viable stopped being so.

    1. It is a bit like Maplin here in the UK. They startred to sell components as RS and Farnell at the time would only sell to companies and not individuals. So they brought the items and resold to us lowly hobbyists.

      At some point they changed and moved away from components and kits to, what seems like a common failure of these types of company, consumer electronics. Problem was they sold no name stuff at high prices compared to online.

      The sad part is they had some big stores and could have been at the front of the Maker community, using some of the space as a “makerspace”. Offering services such as 3D printing and laser cutting, along with electronic components. Instead they wanted to sell cheap plastic battery toy cars or rubbish DISCO equipment but at a premium price.

  5. As I sit here, reading this story on my iPhone in a Radio Shack exclusive TRC-214 case, I am thinking about my joy in ordering (and receiving) the switches and resistors I needed for an upcoming project.

    I think if they can manage their shipping costs, they can become viable again in the post-Covid world. As long as they ‘stick to their knitting’ and don’t go after selling cellphone contracts or big stereo components, it should go well for them.

    I’d like to see them embrace and offer items from other manufacturers, not try so hard to be the be-all, end-all for every product line they offer.

  6. I’m also skeptical about yet-another online retailer being worthwhile. They should have adapted to that market a long time ago when it was young and their pockets were deep. I don’t know what they can offer to differentiate themselves now.

    But that’s kind of the Rat Shack’s MO, isn’t it? See a big market and try to jump into it after everyone else already has. That’s why they tried to become a cellphone booth right?

    I’d love to have a local parts shop again. But not the Rat Shack way, with super-high overhead storefronts in every indoor mall and too many strip malls all loaded w/ overpriced chain-store blister packs.

    I’m picturing a small store, possibly someone’s retirement job run out of a barn or old house on the edge of town. It would be stuffed with old junk, fun to look at and sometimes useful to buy not unlike a hamfest. But it would also have rows of common items, all the passives one might want plus the common items that we all buy from China marked up a bit of course but not so much as to approach Rat Shack prices. And it would stock a few name brand items too such as AdaFruit or Sparkfun so we can support the developers with some of our purchases.

    I want a place I can buy an Arduino on a Saturday afternoon without having to wait 6 months for it to arrive in the mail and yet I want to do it for less than the price of a Raspberry Pi.

        1. Cambridge may as well be the back side of the moon, it’s surrounded by a moat of traffic. But I suppose it IS strategically located walking distance from MIT, so they have that going for them. Wish they’d put one in Providence

        2. Or Yonkers. That’s a bit closer than Long Island, and you don’t have to drive through NYC to get to it.

          Still a long drive from many parts of Connecticut, alas. Micro Center will ship many things, but most current computer components are in-store only. You can shop for them on the web site and place an order but you have to pick it up at the store.

        3. Even in Texas they only have two locations… in a state with three and a half major population centers. Fry’s never reached San Antonio (their financial problems began just before they would have opened a location), and their Austin store was on the far side of a traffic nightmare. (It takes as long to drive across Austin as it does to get there.) So for me, Microcenter is a mere legend told in tales.

          A few weeks ago I actually mail-ordered an item from them that had been mentioned on a web forum, but I wouldn’t mail-order from them for simple parts, I’d use Mouser instead. I’ve had a few lucky parts finds over the years (I recently even inventoried much of it to know which values I have), so most of what I still need is odd stuff that China produces and is available through Amazon, and that I can wait a week for, like perfboard and dupont jumpers. And they are cheap enough that I can keep a good quantity of the stuff that I use, instead of buying five resistors or two transistors at a time on a cardboard peg card.

      1. I have been there and occasionally do go back. It’s an hour of driving one way plus the cost of gas. Also, it’s not “…stuffed with old junk, fun to look at and sometimes useful to buy not unlike a hamfest.”. It’s great for computer and 3d printer stuff both of which do interest me very much but not so great for radio or even any sort of electronics that don’t involve a microcontroler or CPU. Do they even sell a 555?

        Microcenter is half the store I am looking for combined with a whole lot of consumer stuff in the form of a chain with far too few locations to serve the majority of people. But yah, if you are lucky enough to have one nearby it’s a whole lot better than not having one.

        Plus the old guy (or gal) running the mom and pop type shop I was describing is going to be much better to talk to than the busy checkout person at a Microcenter.

  7. Having grown up with a TRS-80 model 1 and as a kid helped unload the first semi load of computers for the first Radio Shack Computer Center I have long mourned the loss of vision that Radio Shack has had. I doubt anyone with that vision still exists. And without the pioneering vision that started Radio Shack long before Tandy bought them I doubt it will ever be the unique makers store it once was.

    I’ll watch. But I doubt it will ever be more than another NewEgg / Amazon / eBay China mart. :-(

    1. “But I doubt it will ever be more than another NewEgg / Amazon / eBay China mart.”

      They will have to cut some of their prices in half and the rest down to a tenth if they want to be any of those things!

  8. I still miss having a ‘local’ electronic ‘parts’ store after RS disappeared. Many a time, I would like to just drive down, get part, and drive home. Plus fun to just get out of the house! Instead, sit down at computer, and then I have to wait several days before the part(s) arrive. I wouldn’t mind even paying a little extra either to pick up locally. Price isn’t usually a big deal. But I think those days are gone. Even for ‘basic’ stuff like ethernet cable, RJ-45 connectors, power supples, etc. I end up ordering on-line. We have Staples here … but usually come away with ‘not in stock, but we can order it for you…’ Doggone it, I can order it myself! That’s not why I am here!

    I don’t think I’d mind another on-line place to look for stuff. A lot of times Adafruit is ‘not in stock’ either. I’d rather spent my cash at the ‘smaller’ outfits than Amazon…..

    1. It would be neat if even a place like ACE hardware, or True Value, would set aside a small area with those trays (like the nuts/bolts/screws) for miscellaneous parts, 555s, resisters, caps, transistors, buttons, switches, stand-offs, etc. with rolls/boxes of wire on shelves… with a few more expensive items behind a counter like meters, scopes, or whatever… Hey parts are parts :) . Point is, the store wouldn’t have to ‘exist’ on this section, just part of the general inventory.

  9. It’s just a Zombie Brand.

    Consumers, citizens, everybody but investment bankers really, would be well served if trademarks were either non-transferrable, or if the transfer carried intense restrictions about what percentage of the people behind the brand remained. And once a business closes that should be the end for the trademark. Using an old trademark on a new product or service that is unrelated to the _people_ behind the old products and services is basically fraud against unsuspecting people. If people weren’t fooled by it there would be no value in it.

  10. RadioShack does nobody any good selling two 1/4w carbon film resistors for a buck, especially when somebody decided that a couple dozen values would be plenty.

    I had some hope for them when they announced they were going to sell parts kits. Taking one of each switch, resistor or LED and selling the “kit” at full retail price of the parts inside (plus a charge for the box) was a huge letdown. Compare a resistor kit with 100 to 500 values, with 5 or 20 or more of each value for maybe ten bucks to the $25+ price of of a RadioShack kit that probably doesn’t have the values you need and the problem is clear.

  11. Sears and Montgomery Ward had captured the postal delivered mail order market in the US until they started selling off their distribution centers, decreasing product lines and never adapted to digital ordering. Now Amazon has captured exactly what Sears and MW became huge doing. The market never went away. Sears and MW frittered away the business through short sighted mismanagement and now they’re gone. Amazon and eBay have filled the vacuum.
    Radio Shack did exactly the same thing with hiring top management that was completely clueless about electronics. (One CEO from grocery stores and one from a drug store chain). Meanwhile most Radio Shack customers got tired of 5 x overpriced cables and connectors, mismatched and obsolete electronic inventory from the 1980s and children’s toys. Radio Shack customers started buying from DigiKey and places like Adafruit and Sparkfun. Radio Shack completely ignored a whole generation of electronics while chasing toys and cellphones. Radio Shack completely lost their legitimacy with the electronic hobbyist and professional.
    If they are coming back as an online store, they will have a very big step up because the folks who took away their electronics customers are very well entrenched and sophisticated and have in depth knowledge of the products and their market. Like if Sears just now decided to complete online with Amazon. That bird has probably flown.
    Going to be really hard gaining critical mass.

    1. About 40 years ago when I was in college, I had a Radio Shack hiring manager explain to me that they were not looking for electronics experience. They did, however, consider it important that you had previous experience operating a cash register. Consider what sort of people they must have been hiring if they couldn’t figure out the cash register!

      They were not alone in this. Various stereo pro stores gave me the same story at the time.

      So, I went to work for a computer graphics laboratory, and eventually moved on to Pixar.

      1. Well I worked at RadioShack from 1980 to 1981 (store 8347 in Arlington, TX) former Six Flags Mall. That was the time when all sales were done on receipt books and the “cash register“ was a cash drawer that you opened by holding three fingers under the drawer faceplate. Everyone was annoyed at the time because sales people were required to get your name and mailing address on every receipt. RadioShack had one of the largest mailing databases at the time. You are right, however, the sales people needed to be able to sell and we’re not required to have any electronics knowledge. That was also the time of the battery a month club where you could bring in a card for a 9v, AA, C, or D battery every month. You could of course get multiple cards and use them at the same or different stores. Of course the stores were known more for stereo systems and electronic parts. I remember going to the Allied Electronics stores before they became RadioShacks.

          1. How about their free 5-cell flashlight coupons, where they sold ‘C’ cells in 4-packs only? Last time I tried buying components from a Rat Shack store was in early 90’s. Tried paying in cash, but clerk wouldn’t close the sale unless I gave him my real address and phone number. I left with my cash in hand. Really creepy, and maybe some of you ex Shack employees can explain just what the heck was going on then?

          2. That is creepy. From what I remembered, they tracked the percentage you’d get a name/address from (at least that is what my manager told me, he could have been bluffing, idk). But I didn’t force it on anybody.
            That’s funny about the 5 cell battery. Hotdogs/buns lcd!

    2. That’s corporate america for you. Business expertise is everything, technical expertise is “geek stuff” and the only goals are short term. What do you think happened to our auto industry?

    3. “Radio Shack customers started buying from DigiKey and places like Adafruit and Sparkfun.”

      Well, let’s not forget that during the 1980s, most mail order electronics stores had a $20 minimum purchase + shipping.
      I think when those mail order companies realized there were a lot of people who only wanted to buy a few components, and dropped their minimum order requirements, places like DigiKey became stronger competitors of RadioShack.

  12. Back in the 70s, was semi-cool, since they were pretty much the only game in town, and the only alternative was mail-order, which could take weeks. I was thrilled with RS prices, or quality of components. I salvaged most of the parts I needed, but there are always a few things, you just have to buy.

    Shipping these days, isn’t that slow, or expensive, if you want next day. A world of online options to choose from. Electronics is a huge field, changing constantly. Think it would be tough to turn a profit, doing any kind of business they use to do. Likely going to be hard to find a niche, they can squeeze into. They have to have more than a name, that’s unique, to get much business. So much competition, they can’t make a lot on price margin, or volume.

    They might have a chance, if they focus on education, beginners, hobbyist, doing what they can, to get more people interested. Building your own, is a lot of work, expensive, considering there are lot of cheap, ready-made boards. All those tiny SMD parts… They would need to find away to encourage people, and make it as easy as possible for them to get in, and be successful in their project ideas, while learning skills. Somebody will find the right mix, to do alright, but doubt that RS is going to do it.

    A physical store in every town, stocking parts, that somebody might need in a pinch, isn’t going to pay the operating costs.

    1. Well, if RadioShack had closed most of its mall stores, and let mom and pop businesses continue to have a corner dedicated to RadioShack merchandise, maybe they’d still be in business. It was high rents in the malls that made them push cell phones.

  13. RadioShack should stay focus on home hobby business, not on cell phone cases and rapair. I like to see electronic education and home project supply by catalog like part number 271-1311 and current trend like Adiuino / RPi kits with books.

  14. Personally, I’ll never shop at Radio Shack again, online or off. I believe I was a teenager when they started selling the phones and other useless stuff that no one ever bought due to ridiculous markups and being “off topic”. The name and address to buy batteries was a stupid move, too. My experiences with Radio Shack have been 100% negative. I’m now 40. The Radio Shack ship sailed and burned viking style long ago. Anyone who buys the brand and hopes to do anything more than brag about it is a poor fit for their job. It will fail again, but this time they won’t even have to make bad business decisions (beyond its purchase). It just has zero chance of ever becoming more than a disappointment in everyone’s minds.

  15. Radio Shack’s roots was in a few stores in the Boston area. They sold radio equipment, and lager stereo stuff. I have no idea if they sold parts. I think they did mailorder.

    They were going bankrupt when Tandy bought it. They were doing mailorder as they started to grow the store count. Look at Elementary Electronics (or whatever preceeded it) in the sixties, pages of Radio Shack ads, almost a catalog each month.

    But Radio Shack was niche. It grew as home electronics grew. The average home in 1970 had a few radios, a tv set or two, maybe a stereo system. The stores started multiplying as interest in electronics increased. It was a friendlier place to get CB sets or shortwave radios or metal detectors than some basement parts store. The parts were there, but tye equipment kept tye stores going.

    And then digital electronics came along, and Radio Shack was one of the few places to get it. Certainly if you weren’t in a major municipality. So you could get that RS branded Casio sampling keyboard, or a home computer, or whatever. More important, you couod go to a nearby store and try it.

    But competition eventually came along, and slowly Radio Shack lost its niche. Everyone sold all the things it sold. Maybe more important, the frontier broken, less radically new stuff to come along. New things keep coming along, but mostly incremental change.

    Without the equipment to sell, the parts can’t sustain the business.

  16. How about RS rebrands itself as “Maker Shack” to attract people who like to make things? Sell 3-D printers, Arduinos, RPis, books on basic coding like in Minecraft, equipment for making cosplay stuff, etc.? With trained staff, it could be a place for people to check things out they’ve heard about and buy them. Prices would have to be the same as online so people don’t check prices then walk out. People can hang out, too, like they did at hobby stores (trains, rocketry, etc.) back in the day.

  17. Am I the only one here who can remember Allied Electronics and their Knight kits, several of which I built. It was purchased by Tandy and absorbed into Radio Shack. They had some great catalogs of parts and equipment.

    1. Allied ran parallel to Radio Shack, though a smaller number of stores, plus the industrial division.

      Then about 1971 Tandy bought Allied, and it became “Allied Radio Shack”. But that lasted about a year. Some anti-trust ruling made them sell off the industrial division, and “Allied” disappeared from the Radio Shack name.

      I came into electronics in 1971, so all I knew about Allied was at Radio Shack. As I recall, some of Allied brand names became Radio Shack brands.

    2. I replied on a post higher up about having gone to Allied Electronics stores as a kid. I remember buying a 45 RPM record with a speech from John F Kennedy on it, some walkie-talkies, and a short wave radio kit from there.

    3. I’m confused by this. I’m sure I remember getting an “Allied Electronics” catalog in the mail back in the late 80s or early 90s. But I remember the items in it being more clearance type stuff. Nothing like the Rat Shack, not blister packs with brand new components. I thought they were one of those places that buys out warehouses of old unsold electronics inventory.

  18. “The good news is that as of today RadioShack has officially been purchased by Retail Ecommerce Ventures (REV),” … FYI, a distressed company purchased by a venture capital firm is never good news. Radio Shack is just joining the way of RCA, Sylvania, Westinghouse, Zenith, Dual, Crosley, Memorex, etc. ..all the same cheap shenzhen electronics you could get from alice1101983 but now with Radio Shack brands painted on.

  19. At least Aussies like me (those who live in the big cities anyway) still have a decent place to pick up gear in the form of Jaycar. Jaycar is to me what Dick Smith was back when it was good except modern with all the latest stuff (Dick never sold Arduino stuff, that’s for sure :)

  20. I can still recall when the Tandy Leather Goods store near me began to offer electronics in a corner. That corner grew until it booted all the leather goods out the door (circa 1968)

    1. One of my aunts did leather work, and I remember going with her to a Tandy store for supplies. Loved the smell. How did a company that sold leather end up owning an electronics business?

        1. No it was Tandy Leather, they shortened their name when they bought Radio Shack.

          Tandy’s father either repaired shoes or made them. Tandy himself started by buying scraps of leather and making kits. It was after WWII, money was available and their was a market for hobby things. So there were stores, and catalogs, and comic books. It was a learning experience that transitioned to Radio Shack.

          So Tandy knew hobbyists, and somehow he learned about electronic hobbyists. I forget whether this came before or with the news that Radio Shack was for sale.

  21. One large mistake Radio Shack made a while ago was replacing their entire line of plastic project boxes, without redesigning their prototyping PCB line to fit the new boxes.

  22. Sadly all too familiar here in the UK. I used to work for Tandy (radio shack), and it was the only place to get kits when I was a kid. Then Maplin started up, doing more components, and one heck of a catalogue, that used to have cool artwork on the cover plus technical diagrams and data inside. This was of course pre-internet.
    Sadly both have now become part of electronics and communication history. Does anyone remember the free battery each month card ?!

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