In the 1980s there were tens of thousands of “mom & pop” computer stores, where you could buy a computer (at a time when there were many choices for what brand and operating system sat on your desktop), along with software and accessories. Over time these stores faded away and were replaced by the mall stable known as Babbage’s, which began as a small software retailer based in Dallas, Texas.
In 1994, the chain bought up several other software retailers and became GameStop—and while games were the core focus, consumers could still get other software needs from these stores. It is worth noting that GameStop was also the brainchild of Leonard Riggio, the head of Barnes & Noble, and in 2004 the software retailer was completely spun off from the rest of B&N. In 2005, GameStop merged with its main competitor Electronics Boutique. This essentially resulted in six of the “mall-based” software retailers: Babbages, Software Etc., GameStop, FuncoLand, Gamesworld and Electronics Boutique – now operating under a single corporate brand.
Also in the 1980s it was common to see a video rental store on what seemed like practically every corner. Mom and pop video stores popped up quickly, but imploded because of the arrival of major chains such as Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video.
So what does this have to do with mobile? Right now in the United States there are around 70,000 or so mobile phone retailers across the U.S. While the move in recent years has been to carrier-based outlets, as in stores run by the carriers, there are still tens of thousands of independent stores. But that landscape could now be changing as well.
I reported earlier this year that Amazon.com is looking to expand its mobile phone retailer operations and carry a range of phones. The Web of course has changed the retail experience, and while it might work for video games and other software (not to mention other consumer electronics and of course books), there is something about holding a phone that is vastly different.
The new competition could actually be another mega-chain, which would be mall-based. This past week Best Buy opened its first six of its official standalone Best Buy Mobile stores in the Dallas area of all places – hence the reasons I felt it worth mentioning the history of Babbages. The next cities for the smaller mobile phone-focused locations will be Boston, Houston, Los Angles and Miami.
Of course, these stores will be smaller than traditional Best Buy locations, and these will mostly be in shopping malls. Thus the total space will be around 1,000 to 1,200 square feet—vastly smaller than the smallest Best Buy. The stores will be a one-stop shop for mobile, and will include accessories such as Bluetooth headsets, phone cases and headphones. The stores will offer phones from major carriers, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, as well as prepaid handsets – notably Virgin Mobile, including the latter’s prepaid broadband service. The stores will also include some netbooks, laptops and a few other compact devices, such as Verizon’s Wireless MiFi.