Retail’s New Year Casualties

HMVblog

It’s a Happy New Year for some but not for all this 2013. Whilst Sainsburys and the like revel in increased year on year growth, the reality is that niche retail as we know it is potentially dying. Some call it evolution of the high street. But is it survival of the fittest? Or something more sinister?

With Comet closing pre-Christmas and now HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster calling it a day barely a month after Christmas, the big question seems to be whether they were murdered by mass merchant competition and online propositions, or did they simply fail to adapt to the changing needs of the consumer?

As a nation of shoppers, in the UK we’re blessed with choice, choice to purchase from a specialist focused on a specific category; a USP that Apple amongst many others work to amazing effect. So how did these brands get it so wrong?

Retail is a journey, one that must engage the consumer from ATL to the shop floor experience. What many of these failed brands did not recognise is that with so much choice from competitors across the retail spectrum and online, they did not connect a desirable product offering with a unique customer experience that made people want to keep going back.

Jessops stores on the whole were tired, poorly positioned and uncompetitive, but offered highly valuable impartial advice worth paying that little bit extra for. HMV failed to make the transition online to support their huge retail overhead (the beating heart of the business); the misplaced focus on live venues allowed a tired retail format to become stale. As online brands thrived by reducing the transactional process to a matter of minutes, HMV never developed its proposition to promote the joys of the browsing experience and entice the busy shopper on their lunch break. Amazon, despite all the negative tax press, never once suffered a PR onslaught from HMV to appeal to those who love shopping online over to their e-commerce site, or even attempt to change perception to entice consumers back into an HMV store to feel the difference, a lost opportunity.

Once upon a time, HMV stores had a culture of cool, a sense of wonderment in this unique haven of entertainment; unrivalled on the high street. But cool is fleeting, particularly with management so out of touch with consumers. Like Jessops, it offered consumers the opportunity to engage with enthusiastic individuals who on the whole loved music, film, gaming and tech to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. Instead, management decided to ban tattoos and long hair amongst staff.

In austere times we do want value, but be careful what you wish for. Bigger isn’t always better, and the possibility of shopping solely through mass merchants can mean less choice within a category, less expertise and less fun. In fact, the prospect of buying that chart dvd nowadays makes those horse burgers look quite appealing by comparison…

Daniel Todaro, MD, Gekko

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