Alive and Clicking

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As Jessops and HMV are saved from oblivion, Daniel Todaro, managing director of field marketing agency Gekko, considers using the internet to drive sales in-store and help ensure the future of face-to-face retailing.

It might have been freezing in March but the sun certainly shone on Jessops when it was revived with fire from a dragon.

It really is fantastic news that Peter Jones has bought the company and rather than just moving it online, he’s revitalising the current model to create 40 new stores. With so much of the high street littered with empty stores, it’s encouraging to see a company come back from administration and open for business. It’s not an easy decision to plough cash into a defunct retailer but it’s the right one and the high street needs more champions to restore it to former glory.

Recent news has also confirmed that HMV is being brought back from the brink by Hilco. The new owner is planning to concentrate on music and merchandise rather than film and electronics with a £50 million rescue package. Like Jessops, Hilco is amending the business model but keeping the stores to maintain the high street presence to give customers that interaction with knowledgeable staff.

The interest in music and the digital imaging category is one that will continue to remain popular so it makes sense to retain the businesses even if it means amending previous models. Unlike Blockbuster, the near extinction of the photography retailer is one that shouldn’t have been a formality, and is one that could have had wide reaching implications for the entire tech retail sector. The loss of Jessops on the high street would have meant there was no credible specialist chain for the imaging category, leaving the plethora of camera product ranges to battle it out within the broader electrical retailers (competing alongside laptops, sound systems, white goods etc). Consequently expert in-store advice for amateur photographers on cameras would be hard to come by on the high street. Beginner and professionals would yet again be pushed to explore reviews and advice online; while it’s a useful source of information, it’s by no means rigorous.

Amazon and other online suppliers might be the easy option for those wanting to buy a camera from the comfort of a sofa, but if we keep neglecting the specialist bricks and mortar, they simply won’t be able to survive; exactly the plight of Jessops and HMV. An over-reliance on such online merchants is going to be of detriment to us all; we’ll ultimately be the ones who lose out on the day out at the shops.

As a nation of shoppers, in the UK we’re blessed with choice, choice to purchase from a specialist focussed on a specific category; a USP that Apple amongst many others work to amazing effect. A visit to the local hardware shop for example entails more than the sole purchase of the product. It’s the social aspect, the expertise and the positive feeling that comes through engaging with the local community. But most of all, it is fun and fulfilling. Humans are social creatures and while digital is a marvellous thing, it can’t, nor should it ever replace legitimate face-to-face human interaction and the manner in which it can bring people together. Communities are dying being put off from venturing into boarded up high streets. Jessops stores will aid other retailers to survive by drawing consumers back to the high street. Is challenge now is to move on from the negative press and be the drivers of a high street renaissance.

The shopping experience has always been much more than the point of purchase, which is what makes it so valuable. It would be naive to say shopping online should be banned but encouraging the use of click could drive a transaction. Taking the pain out of roaming endless stores by doing it online and then collecting in-store will still allow people to get on the spot advice and support on products. Jessops have taken this idea on board and reflected it into the new business model with plans under way to relaunch the website with a focus on click-and-collect.

Peter Jones has had the right idea about bringing 40 new stores into the equation for Jessops and HMV is set to follow suit. By bringing back 300 of the most passionate staff that lost their jobs in January Mr Jones is already off to a good start to restore the company’s digital imaging expertise. The best way to keep the iconic brands going and safe from returning to administration is by investing further in staff and retaining that vital in-store experience. The new stores will provide face to face interactions for customers who need advice and information on products.  Keeping a national high street presence will allow staff to drive sales and extra add ons with in store demonstrations; something you ultimately can’t get online.

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