An enjoyable read. So, would anyone like to speculate as to who the next high-street casualty will be?
One thing is certain, we’re all going to die at some point while encountering high and low points along the way. Life is a journey, with no guaranteed time of departure. And business is no different. The loss of names such as Woolworth, Clinton, Jessop, Comet, HMV and now Blockbuster may be sad, but it’s also part of the …
Hmmm, I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say Thorntons. You see lots of their bars and boxes in Tesco and WH Smith, so why do they need their own independent shops? Anything that they can't do via their partners they could convert into an online business like Montezumas.
But we shouldn't fret about the loss of another High Street chain. After all it's been at *least* 50 metres since I walked passed a Costa or Starbucks - that's prime shopfront space going to waste there.
I'm going to go with one you mentioned - WH Smiths. Name ONE thing they do that other corner shops etc. don't? Apart from depth of magazines available (and that can be fixed with a subscription), they are just a big corner shop.
Thorntons, as you say, they can go online so you lose the high street but they don't go 'under' as such, so they aren't in the running for this question (yet).
After the Gadget shop died on it's arse, I'm surprised that MenKind is still going... didn't gadget shopping on the internet kill those kids of places?
So many to choose from, I feel quite morbid.
They have a single brand name across high streets, stations and airports. And in airports they seem to do a thriving business in selling bottled drinks, which you can't take through security.
They're not going to replace corner shops (Tesco are doing that) but they always seem to have people in them, and they seem to be buying stuff.
Personally I only ever use them at the airport to look at magazines, usually decide against buying one, and just get the free paper from the gate or the lounge. I'm so cheap.
WH Smiths will survice, not becuase they do anything that "corner shops" don't do but because they own a massive distribution company that delivers products all over the UK to far more sound businesses that WHS themselves. The WHS shops piggy back off off this delivery service.
I reckon Waterstones must be close to the edge.
WH Smith remains profitable and carries little in the way of debt or intangibles. Did the right thing splitting the Retail and News Distribution arm and has other elements to its business. Re-branding will not do it harm however. Point of interest, it filed a profit before tax of 102m on sales slightly down to 1.24bn. Indeed, although sales have declined a bit over the last four years, profitability has increased.
I actually miss making mix-tapes. There was nothing like trying to woo a girl when you were young by spending all weekend making her a mix-tape of her favourite stuff and then lovingly writing all of the track information on the inlay card.
It actually worked as well!
Pirate icon as home taping obviously killed music
It was attention to the effort required that marks a mix-tape out as being a personal statement of affection.
Cueing up tracks on albums and singles and pressing the play and record buttons at the same time.
I tried finding all the number one hits that coincided with my wife's birthday one year. Wikipedia open in the browser and logged into spotify. Had 30 years wrapped into a bunch of playlists in an hour. Didn't feel like I'd achieved anything.
I don't think I bother listening to music myself as much these days. Not that I don't listen, but I don't bother to finish listening. In those far distant times if you wanted to skip a track you had to get up walk over to the record deck, lift the lid....and then move the needle a half-inch on. Or hold down the FF button on the cassette deck. CDs made it easy to blip to the next track, with a media player on your laptop or tablet drag the pointer to the minute in the middle you like then on to the next track. Too easy - less fun perversely
...especially as I've been foretelling the death of high street retail for "commodity" products for at least the last ten years. But...an interesting "hole" in the buying experience is opening up before us. Media products are being replaced by the instant gratification of digital, and physical products can usually be bought online, both more cheaply and with better customer service (as you generally have more rights online thanks to Distance Selling rules), but physical goods right now is starting to become a problem. Not quite so much in the UK, but here in Ireland the loss of the likes of GAME and HMV has had a direct impact. The impulse purchase, or that Blu-Ray your kid wants and its the day before her birthday and you forgot to allow three days for Amazon...no longer an option.
Now, its fairly obvious that the economics of box shifting games or DVDs (or books) is untenable on the high street, but I don't think that the demand has actually gone, or is even a minority channel (yet), but rather the cost structure can no longer support the model, and isn't remotely adaptable enough to help that happen (in Ireland they still have upward only rent reviews for crying out loud, four years after the Celtic Tiger got its head blown off), so what you're actually going to get is quite a bit of pain for customers who will need to adapt to the new paradigm, even if they don't really want to. (I had to drive to an out of town Tesco to get that Blu-Ray; Madagascar 3 if you must know).
"The impulse purchase, or that Blu-Ray your kid wants and its the day before her birthday and you forgot to allow three days for Amazon...no longer an option."
Blue what? just buy the movie online and gift it to her account.
Oh wait I forgot we are still in 2013 where the gaming industry is in 2013 but the movie industry is still stuck in 2003.
...it's not the loss of a few sad old stores, it's the loss of the High St as an idea.
Boarded up shops make town centres look depressing. There's likely an opportunity to reinvent town centres as something more appealing than the same old mix of the same old names, everywhere in the UK, forever.
But there's going to have to be carnage in the business rental sector before that becomes a possibility. And it's one thing to have a go at manudjment for being stupid and short-sighted, but another to predict what High Sts are going to look like ten years from now, and to make some money from it.
"And it's one thing to have a go at manudjment for being stupid and short-sighted, but another to predict what High Sts are going to look like ten years from now, and to make some money from it."
How are you going to make money from the zombie hoards shambling through the remnants of a once bustling high street? Cash for Brains? Zombies often carry wallets but they will rarely use them.
@ The OtherHobbes I've just posted similar ideas to you, but you've put it better.
Our society could do with indoor public spaces that aren't based on a £/hour rate disguised as a £2.50 cup of coffee. Something akin to a university campus for adults, freelancers, hobbyists... a library, mail-ordered parcels can be signed for and dispatched, crèches for freelancing parents, equipment rentals.
[Strange- Chrome's spelling correction has placed the 'e' in crèches in bold- what that all about?]
There was a business programme on the radio this week... a snippet that caught my ears was there are shops in America that are beginning to charge people to try on clothes and shoes- presumably because they are sick of people trying them for fit in the store and then ordering it on-line.
A more interesting question is "What shall we do with the empty shop premises in our town centres?" We don't need more Pound Lands and charity shops. The London Stock Exchange was founded on coffee shops that people could use as an office all day for the cost of a few cups... high rent means that hasn't been possible for a long time, but shared productive / shared spaces could be good thing.
People used to ask "What pub do you use?", but now they too are to expensive to frequent everyday for business purposes- we're encouraged to use FaceLinkd or whatnot. Successive governments bleating on about 'community' yet daily beer is now taxed out of most people's reach, and every day two pubs go out of business.
The problem is that we were all ecstatic when the value of our property sky-rocketed, not really noticing that the price of the high-street was rocketing too.
The problem is that the properties weren't really becoming more valuable, it was just that cheap debt was driving the competition for space far too high and then locking it in via mortgages. Now there is a market making money off the process of selling. The cost of selling is far too high - usually higher than the cost of making the goods. Tax laws make renting a more efficient way of amortising cost than property acquisition, but it also drives up costs as you've added another slice of profit-taking to the sales chain.
It annoys me when I see analysts pushing increasing debt as an indicator of a healthy economy. It may indicate rising expectations, that people are willing to live with something so damaging, but expectations and healthiness are not the same thing. Long term debt is bad.
Control debt and mortgages and you control rent. Easy mortgages push up costs which pushes up rent which makes selling expensive and diverts large percentages of income into interest, which only serves the banks.
Perhaps its time to re-introduce communally held market places to act as an alternative to the large chains which can offer so much benefit, but which are inclined to fail on a spectacular scale.
Let's not forget the inflexibility of the local councils who , even a recession, continue to hike their business rates year after year. Any new business wanting to start up in the high street needs very deep pockets indeed, which effectively is discouraging new shops from opening at all...
"shops in America that are beginning to charge people to try on clothes and shoes- presumably because they are sick of people trying them for fit in the store and then ordering it on-line"
Surely they could try and do something smarter, such as adapt, rather then just punishing potential customers...? If you hate your customers and show it, you aren't likely to increase your sales income.
I'd like to take a pop at high street computer retailers. For years innocent members of the public have been punted PCs and related tech by the same shops that sell TVs, videos, stereos and toasters. This has been the wrong model, as demonstrated by the large number of confused and disappointed PC owners who resort to bothering people like us to keep their contraptions running.
The ownership and costs model for a typical PC is probably closer to that of a car than a telly : the owner suffers massive depreciation, unexpected running costs that nobody told you about and either have to be an expert or know an expert or pay an expert to massage it back to functionality when things inevitably go awry. Computer ownership has been a miserable experience for millions. (There are of course exceptions: simpler devices and machines bearing a certain fruity logo seem to fare better and no, I don't own a fruity machine.)
The PC retailers don't cater for these events and shouldn't be considered "channel" - they are mere spivs.
That twerp in Currys who just was showing my old man an i3 desktop... he just kept spurting out what were to my father meaningless numbers, not noticing that his eyes had glazed over almost as soon as he started speaking.
Another was in Comet years back... as soon as we said we would buy the laptop, the 'assistant' started trying to sell us an extended warranty by demonstrating the flimsy build quality of the machine (actually, he was just poking the back of the lid to make the LCD screen ripple- pretty harmless). "Oh forget the whole thing" we said and walked out to buy a laptop elsewhere.
Which is why Apple is making a killing.
They sell "nice stuff you can do" (iLife), not hardware specs. You don't see hardware spec's in Apple stores.
You never see "intel inside" in an apple ad - it just isn't relevant to the audience. They don't sell screen resolution, they sell "an amazing-looking display" for your photos.
Its the difference between, "look what we made to sell you" and "look what you can do with our stuff."
There is a place for each of those strategies, but the high street works best with the latter.
True, but if we didn't have such retailers we'd have missed out on the whole sport of playing dumb with the spotty 17 year old who's trying to sell us the overpriced machine (not to mention the equally overpriced extended warranty), seeing quite how far you can get him along bullshit lane and then come out with a few seemingly naive but highly technical questions and watching him squirm.
Always a fun way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon of old...
"True, but if we didn't have such retailers we'd have missed out on the whole sport of playing dumb with the spotty 17 year old who's trying to sell us the overpriced machine (not to mention the equally overpriced extended warranty), seeing quite how far you can get him along bullshit lane and then come out with a few seemingly naive but highly technical questions and watching him squirm."
I did not know people could still do that.
Some s**t never gets old.
All our local high street butchers closed by the 1990s. However one butcher seems to have come up with a local business model that works. He has a stall in the indoor market a few days a week - but also has his business unit with a customer counter not far off the high street. It was a pleasant surprise when buying a beef fillet (sealed, with provenance) to be charged half the price of the high street supermarket.
The Digital Depot camera business seems to be successfully occupying the Jessops niche for middle to high end cameras. They are competitive online - but also have one accessible shop where you can get hands on evaluation. Presumably there are other independent camera shops following the same model.
Independent bookshops survive in the same way - hitching a ride on Amazon as "marketplace partners". Online browsing for books is much better than in any real bookshop - as the range is enormous no matter how specialist your taste. Amazon seem to list every book that has ever been printed in modern times - even if now out of print. User reviews, and "look inside", help in making a decision to buy.
but couldn't disagree more about browsing on Amazon: with a decent sized, real bookshop, I used to love to wander in, either with or without an idea of what I wanted, mooch about, look over a few books, and either come out with something familiar, or a complete surprise. Online just doesn't work this way, as you need to know what you want before you start, and is thus a much less enjoyable experience (even if it is more efficient!).
"mooch about, look over a few books, and either come out with something familiar, or a complete surprise."
In the past I often found a book through Amazon - and then ordered it via the local Ottakars bookshop at full RRP. I found some pleasant random surprises on Ottakars shelves - but once Waterstones took them over then that was the end of anything except the obvious. Even Ottakars couldn't help if a desired book was out of print.
The Amazon "recommendations" work well for in-print books and DVDs - and you can do some tuning on the criteria. Their lists compiled by other readers often contain out of print books - but sourcing those is usually no problem these days. Postscript Books sends a monthly newsletter of (remaindered?) books that probably rarely reach the shelves of most bookshops. When reading a book there may be references to other titles that widen the scope.
All these paths tend to lead into unknown territory. My library shelves accommodate about 2000 books - with regular purging of the "once only" or "failed to complete" titles. I used to read three books a week to unwind - but now I've retired it has become occasional splurges to catch up with the backlog. When I can't walk across the carpet in a straight line - then it is time to have some solid reading sessions followed by a visit to the charity shops. Hopefully I give them more books than I buy on the same visit.
+1 for Ottaker's, but the tale of Ottaker's is also proof that being an excellent retailer with a true passion for what you're doing and selling is still not enough to prevent being Borged by a larger, less responsive and utlimately less good competitor.
Our high street has a specialist "ski and climb" shop that probably serves a wide area. They advertise their stock on the web too. So I had a look at what they had on the web site - then trundled down to the shop with an idea of what features might be desirable.
Tried on a dozen different anoraks with the assistant acting as a "features" filter as we progressed to a short list. A successful foray with the purchase of two anoraks - and at half price as they were in their winter clearance sale. That could not have been done so conveniently online.
>Presumably there are other independent camera shops following the same model.
'Clifton Cameras' is no longer in Clifton, but now in a scruffy (ex industrial, now commuter) town 20 miles North of Bristol, on the picturesque edge of the Cotswold hills. Unlike Clifton, the parking is free, and I'm sure that the rent is far, far cheaper. People don't spend thousands on a body and lenses everyday, so on they occasions they do they probably don't mind making the trip - especially as the scenery is a suitable subject for their new toys. They have an on-line presence, too.
A few miles up the road in another scruffy town is a discrete shop selling some very expensive guitars. It has been visited by a fair section of rock royalty- it's equally accessible from Birmingham as it is much of the South West, areas that many rock gods have made their home.
Both these shop sell the sort of high-cost items that people will travel for. Both are in towns that don't really offer any other major reason to visit them.
The virtual shop is the way of the future which in effect will move the dead money in any business [stock] back up the chain.Thus it will be the manufacturer who will be forced to hold items to post on to end users.
The high street has not moved with the times fast enough and though it will be missed it is an unviable monolith to keep alive and any attempt to do so will just waste much needed local funding.
Retail has provided jobs (and taxes) everywhere. for a long time and it's likely local governments will try to do something about this.
So what happens when most kinds of shop are simply not needed?
Who will have won when the shops have gone?
I went to buy something in Currys a few days ago.......(nothing expensive), we were greeted at the door by an assistant who's sole purpose seemed to be to say Hello, we were asked by four different sales types if they could 'help us', I picked what I wanted from the shelf, we were directed to the till by another assistant who's sole purpose seemed to be to direct us to the very obvious till, at the till I had to stand in a queue, while the only person serving had a long discussion with some old bloke about his ancient mobile phone, after several minutes of this pointless conversation she left the till area to 'go find someone to assist him', at this point I chucked my prospective purchase in the nearest bargain bin and left the shop.... I was pleasantly wished goodbye by another pointless assistant....
The shop was massively over staffed, with covens of assistants al over the store, but no fucker wanted my money... no sale..... oh and for the record, this was their brand spanking new Solihull Currys/PC World combi super store.....
So I (used to) go to Barnes'n'Noble a lot to browse & buy books. It was a lot easier than browsing Amazon and much better for finding stuff I liked but didn't know I liked which is pretty much impossible to search for on the net.
They had a big selection of interesting books.
Now they have a tiny selection of mass-market popular books, and toys, puzzles, a coffee shop, DVDs, CDs, a large Nook sales display, several huge racks of magazines I can get in the grocery store, a half-store "multimedia" section that no one visits, and tons of other shit taking up space from selling interesting books.
For example, I'm 90 miles from Kennedy Space Center and 30 miles from Walt Disney World, yet they don't even have any space/astronomy/science books and very little Disney stuff any more. I know that used to sell, because when they had it, the employees I knew said it sold well. So why don't they have that any more?
This is why they're going out of business.
"For example, I'm 90 miles from Kennedy Space Center and 30 miles from Walt Disney World, yet they don't even have any space/astronomy/science books and very little Disney stuff any more. I"
Trouble is that would require individual branches to develop, how to put it, "personality."
Which is entirely against the corporate "uniform retail experience" so beloved of large corporate chains.
Making the Timbuktu Barnes & Noble* (if it exists) exactly like your local one.
I mention Timbuktu as it had one of the world's oldest libraries (A UN world heritage site). It has been severely damaged by Islamist militants. No I doubt you'd be able to find any of the translations in store either.
It's hard to take sometimes, waves of nostalgia at the loss of HMV and Comet, who sold my wife and I our first dryer. But yes, it's necessary. I still think it's premature to speak of the demise of the PC or laptop in some form or another. There are far too many applications and games for which a keyboard and mouse are by far the best way to interact with and most importantly the issue of storage has yet to be resolved properly. The current system of surface mounting pitifully small SD cards at progressively outrageous prices has got to give and indeed thanks to hard disk manufacturers it soon will. At least one manufacturer has released a portable HD with a built in WiFi access point that can be accessed directly by iOS or Android, as well as via the internet if you choose to leave it at home and connect it to a router. Lasts about 10 hours unplugged btw, but still needs work as it's access point's bandwidth is limited to 250 mbits shared between all connected devices (up to 10).
Still what you're left with is a computer that looks worse than an expanded Amiga 500. By the time you've bought your keyboard, mouse and storage you might as well have bought a $800-$1000 PC with a far superior processor and video card.
Those that say that's not the point, these things are portable in a way that laptops can only dream of are correct. At least partly. However the biggest purchaser of PCs is the corporate world and I challenge you to find one office that will accept the shite productivity apps that are currently available and will put up with a balancing their monitor against a phone book because the boss was too cheap to spring for the $30 stand. The crappy $50 magnetic covers Apple sell stop working as stands after about two months of gentle use.. magnets aren't forever.
So yeah, I won't cry when Dell, Gateway and HP die (although I will feel for the rank and file), but I don't see that happening for about another decade.
For more than 10 years, I have on shopping trips with my partner been the one who holds the bags and waits patiently while she disappears into the changing rooms with an armful of stuff only to come out saying she didn't like any of it. Along the way I've drunk numerous indifferent expensive cups of tea in high-street coffee shops.
And it's always been a lot more fun than making myself a cup of tea -however good - at home and passing her purse to her so can order something online.
Perishable goods IE fruit, veg and meat, with shorter supply chains, lower overheads and possibly better quality and prices.
Clothing, where accurate fit is important?
Brans "sheltering" inside branches of Tesco's and other supermarkets?
But does the UK really need that many coffee shop chains?
I think people do want some kind of communal retail experience and something new will start to form but I'm b**ered if I know what.
As for everyone else my instinct is more specialised shops backed with a well developed web presence. In essence a relatively small (a large branch or small chain of large branches) physical presence with a big virtual presence selling stuff you want to get hands-on with to tell the difference.