Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Where's the High Street going?

To hell in a hand cart...

In the last few weeks we've lost Comet, Jessops and now HMV tetters on the cliff of administration and closure.  But then like many I'm a culprit to these places demise - I buy off internet sellers.  Well actually I do buy in the High Street when I can get what I want but case in point my daughter bought me Sam Carter - No Testament for Christmas (stunning album btw - check him out!).  She went to HMV and no sign of it or of any help for the multi-pierced and studded girl who seemed to know nothing about music.  So she bought it off Amazon.  I was with my son who looked at a Blu-Ray in there - scanned the bar code and realised he could buy it off Amazon at a fraction of the cost so ordered it there and then.

The last two cameras I bought both presents for the kids were from Wex online.  Why?  Significantly cheaper than Jessops and with a better package - i.e. I could get the lens they wanted in a package at a good price.  Jessops didn't have that flexibility and again the level of knowledge in the staff sadly lacking.  I asked about that body with that lens... "Can't do that you have to buy the package and the new lens on top"... Wex - had it online for next day delivery!

In the old days (sound like my Dad now) you'd go to the shop and an expert would know more than you and help you appropriately - my wife often recounts the length of time it took me to be guided to my first SLR purchase back in my early 20s - but that Pentax lasted over 20 years of reliable service.

So now it is so much easier to do your research online so if you care about something you can be an expert as well versed as any.  Shops need to reduce costs so it strikes me sadly that too many have people who have little knowledge or interest in the products and so a vicious cycle goes on.

I'll go back to my first ever use of Amazon.  My son was about 10 so 12 - 13 years ago now.  He was doing a project on rivers and had been given The Orinoco. I went to Foyles in London (biggest bookshop in the world and all that or whatever they state...) and asked for any books on that topic suitable for his age.  Frankly total blank despite a really helpful assistant searching the microfiche (remember them?).  At home I went on Amazon and had a look - found a suitable book and not that expensive and it arrived in less than a week straight through my letter box.  I was sold on this new way of shopping.  In those 12 years or so sadly the shops on the High Street have I don't think matched that trend with an improved offering.  Maybe places with good knowledge and ability to order "direct to you sir" the exact product they have helped you select do have a place... sadly I think the opportunity for that model has slipped past.

HMV has for a while now resembled little more than a jumble sale - lots of stuff dirt cheap but little depth and breath to the stock.  Rows and rows of Bon Jovi CDs at 2 for £10 but no Sam Carter for example!  I tried to buy Black County Communions Live Over Europe on Blu Ray in their flagship Oxford St store the month it was released in... ordered it off Amazon again... I rest my case m'lud!

So Jessops, HMV - we came, we asked, you failed... good bye


  1. Good point. Face-to-face retail will only remain an attractive option when it has a USP, and the decline in customer service (inevitable when you have poorly-trained, disinterested, badly-paid staff who don't feel 'invested in' and therefore don't invest in their jobs - take a trip to John Lewis to experience the difference the 'partnership model' can make) has been a big nail in the high street's coffin.

    I have been helping out a chum who's one of the dying breed - a specialist shopkeeper - and the only way he's been able to stay afloat is by making sure his staff immerse themselves in knowledge about what they're selling (a nice opportunity for me to learn about a whole other world, but a serious business for him.). HMV lost any customer loyalty from me years ago, for many of the reasons you raise.

  2. I try to avoid internet sales as much as possible. It's my small protest. I NEVER by off Amazon. Amazon killed bookstores, which I find personally painful. My life is a little less interesting because there's no place to browse for books.

    You might find this of interest.

  3. my son was once banned from HMV for spending too much time looking at the DVDs!!!!

    1. Ridiculous! No wonder it's gone down the pan.

  4. I don't use Amazon either, because they're a bunch of criminal tax dodgers. One of the reason that firms like Jessops and HMV go under is that they're having to compete with firms who exempt themselves from the taxes that other firms pay.

    I've got fond memories of The Golden Disc in Oldham, and Ere Ear in Lancaster, *record* shops where knowledgeable and hairy staff used to be happy to play their own choice of records all day according to who was in. Now it's just centrally controlled overloud shit from a central point hundreds of miles away, programmed by robots. HMV in Lancaster was useless. I once took a cutting of a review in the Guardian with the CD's details on it and Spotty Yoof said that it wasn't "on the system".

    Another problem is that firms like HMV only pay the minimum wage. Why should anyone give a shit about anything for 6.20 an hour? The shops that I mentioned above were collectives, so everyone felt much more involved in the place.

    There's a huge secondhand bookshop in Carnforth (an armpit of a town six miles north of Lancaster, an unlikely place to find one of the best secondhand bookshops in Lancashire) which keeps going because if you're even slightly interested in books, its several different rooms will get you lost in fascinated browsing for hours. Downstairs, polite, Tory-voting women sell you fancy wrapping paper and wartime fridge magnets, but in the warren upstairs you can handle real books (and not just "Look Inside!") till your heart's content.

  5. Ah ha! Here's something practical to do about it. Independent booksellers in Warwickshire have started a petition to get Amazon to pay Corporation Tax in the UK (currently paying: nil)

    1. Only thing I will just say is actually they are not breaking the law - we are part of the EU and other agreements that make what they do not illegal. Frankly any business is there to increase profit for the shareholders - well any large stock market quoted business is so we shouldn't moan when they do that.

      There is a solution to this... change the law and withdraw from the trading agreements. Why is the govt not suggesting this? Oh yes they realise it'll kill inward investment into the UK over night. So they make us the customers get angry about it and customer power takes over see the Starbucks incident recently. I find that somewhat cynical but then I find much of govt cynical in the extreme. They are the govt if this abhors them so much change the law make it illegal. Any company wanting to trade will then have to abide. Maybe it would restore companies like HMV etc. to the UK if they did. *side whisper* Trust me they won't, they don't really want to annoy big business that much

    2. I think you've hit some good points right on the nail there Graham. I am very pro-EU (I don't want to fight anyone thanks) but I don't understand how in a free trade area such as the EU is supposed to be, someone can domicile a company in its smallest country (Luxembourg) where it does what 0.5% of its trade, and mysteriously cut its tax bill. I don't understand it, but it's wrong.

  6. Jessops asked for it, to be honest. Long before the internet became commonplace they were replacing their staff with people that knew very little about photography; kids serving in their outlets prepared to argue with a potential customer (me) when not in possession of all the facts, and indifferent management who should have known better.

    In 2007 I spent over £6000 on equipment that I bought online, purely because Jessops did not/would not stock what I wanted, or delivery times were excessive. What did I buy from Jessops in that same period? Two packs on lens tissues. QED