Written by Misc, Technology

Retail

And so it has come to pass that HMV is in administration. When an unplanned “Blue Cross” sale popped up before the weekend, the writing was on the wall.
At time of writing, we can perhaps remain hopeful of some kind of partially successful outcome of the administrators seeking a semblence of a successful business. Selfishly, I’d love the Oxford Street branch to remain open. It simply seems wrong that the only other place you could buy CDs, DVDs or video games in central London would be in a Tesco Express or Sainsburys Local.
The writing has been on the wall for HMV for many years now. Once upon a time, a trip into London would see me move between Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus, before heading up to HMV near Oxford Circus and finishing at the Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road. The former is now “The Sting” – no me neither. The latter a branch of Primark. Who knows what HMV’s enormous square footage will become.
In swift succession we’ve also seen Comet and then Jessops disappear from our high streets. Both defeated by the internet. If you want to actually look at, touch or feel an electrical product from now on, you’re going to be at the mercy of Currys/PC World or John Lewis.
Otherwise, you’re just going to have to rely on reviews on Amazon. (And I can’t help noticing that even Play.com is getting out of selling new products and just becoming… well eBay).
I’m not going to shed tears for the music industry – even though it’s an industry that’s important to me both personally and professionally. So yes, killing time in record shops is not something I’ll be able to do much of any longer. But the fundamental difference is going to be felt by artists who are not in the top 30 or so albums (with even “albums” becoming a thing of the past). The random purchase of the soundtrack to Blow Up I made in HMV last week alongside a couple of other unplanned CD purchases simply won’t happen in the future. Because I need to know about music before I buy it on Amazon or iTunes. (Incidentally, there’s an argument that means that radio becomes more important now that a key distribution and discovery opportunity is being removed).
I’m not sure where that leaves the High Street. Clearly rents are severely out of kilter with what retailers can afford. And I’m not sure that there’s a steady queue of replacements just around the corner. Online fashion outlets like Asos must be damaging the fashion end of the high street. Selling coffee based beverages seems to be the only area of growth!
Perhaps the way we do shopping needs to change. On the one hand we get massive shopping centres that still seem to do well, yet on the other end, the nature of how we shop is changing. This isn’t just the recession.
So yes, where once we bought physical pieces of music and owned discs or tapes with films, we now download and rent, even for those things still retailed on an ownership model, the nature of sales is changing.
I’m not averse to change, but I do think that we’ve yet to match the browsing nature of bricks and mortar stores in an online world. If I go to Amazon, I know what I’m looking for. I bought my last camera on Amazon and not in store at Jessops because it was substantially cheaper online. Of course Jessops was acting as a free showroom for me. When I want to buy my next camera, I’m not sure if I’ll ever see it in person before it comes out of a brown packaging container with a .com retailer stamped on the front.
If you have physical premises, you just don’t have an advantage these days. Big distribution centres near motorway junctions trump expensive retail locations in hundreds of towns and cities. Claiming your business is based in Luxembourg or Ireland trumps actually having to sell your products in the UK.