Like the majority of the nation, it filled me with great sadness to hear the news that HMV had gone into administration. I have always been a massive fan of the chain, and the satisfaction of knowing that the endless multimedia paradise it houses is literally at your fingertips, instead of leaving your order at the mercy of an online system that we see, in so many cases, let’s down its customers from time to time and leaves them in the dark.
I do have to admit, however, that I saw something like this occurring on the horizon at least a year ago. So although I feel sadness for the situation, unfortunately I do not feel any major surprise.
Over the past decade or more, we have all seen the incredible rise in online shopping and the ease with which we can get what we want at the push of a button. After all, what could be a more perfect motive from a person’s perspective to be able to shop without the need to take up hours at a time driving and walking to and from different stores looking for what you want? To be able to get your hands on anything you desire whilst relaxing at home without the need to battle our notoriously eccentric British weather on a weekend or a lunch break?
Wherever I am there seems to be an increasing number of high-street stores closing due to a lack of business, or retreating to a new found reliance in their online sales that seems to be the more popular trend. It is not just the smaller businesses that are struggling either; along with HMV we have seen the demise of Woolworths, Blockbusters going back into administration and Currys pulling out high-street stores left, right and centre! All of this, in my eyes, sounds a warning not only to smaller businesses and high-street chains, but, strangely enough, to their online counterparts who are quickly becoming heir to the throne of mass marketing.
Whilst we, the public, currently revel in our ability these days to get what we need at very little expense of our own time and effort, online companies may start to focus so much on their success at the top of the chain that they fail to see that the foundations our high-street stores have created for them may start to crumble in the near future.
The global market, whether it be online or in our town and city centres, is an endless schedule of compromise and negotiations. What worries me is that both the online stores and high-street stores complement each other with their sales figures and contacts, and seeing so many stores suddenly surrendering to their competitors online, or those franchises that make a profit online that sustains their own high-street brands, has the potential to upset this delicate balance of mutual respect that must lie between both the online market and street sales. Coming back to HMV, their sales largely depend on their policy of keeping their customers attracted to walking into their stores day in day out.
Whether it is fair that some could criticise them for not exploiting a gap in the online market that they could possibly take, and, therefore, competing with the likes of Amazon, eBay, Play.com and many others, in a market where I’m sure, with their sales pedigree, many would think they could excel in, is a rather interesting debate. While, in the eyes of the public, many could accuse HMV for failing to see where the market of today lies, or whether they continue to use some kind of stubborn system that they believe in fervently, it is chains like HMV that, as I say, largely compliment their competitors online with their ability to stock and continue to produce items to be put on sale online for the likes of Amazon, eBay, and Play.com to distribute from. (I use these three in particular as examples due to their current success).
Any businessman or woman knows that having the ability to branch off into things such as online sales first requires a solid system that starts from scratch, which, in the majority of instances, may just start with a small corner shop in the middle of your local town. This is the principle that many must now also realise isn’t just true of individual businesses like HMV, but is also true of the general hierarchy of today’s market.
Yes, the likes of Amazon and eBay did not, and to this day do not, have local branches we can pop into of a weekend. However, it is the smaller businesses that these websites now take stock and distribute from that are being bypassed in favour of being able to double-click the left button on your mouse for whatever you so desire, and these businesses, like with HMV, are part of the foundations that allow the online market in this day and age to expand in a modern world where the web has everything we need in a matter of seconds.
I am sure that in the near future the online system will continue to flourish as it makes the likes of Christmas and birthdays much easier to provide for. But we must not forget that, as other businesses will inevitably accept defeat to the trend of online shopping, that those places who shut their doors for the final time are in fact the lifeline and solid base that these online empires are working from, and that sometime in the near future we must realise that we cannot continue to bypass our high-streets forever in favour of our computer screens!
By: ROBERT PRITCHARD