Havoc is the word that comes to mind when one reads about the post-Xmas meltdown of top retailers like Jessops and HMV, with so many job losses and uncertainty around the existence of other businesses and of the high street in general.
Gutted to hear about HMV going into administration. Bye bye high street.—
Chris Soo (@chrissoo) January 14, 2013
But not excited about what is going on on the high-street. Clinton Cards, Comet, Jessops, now HMV? That's thousands of jobs just gone!—
Natasha Hill (@tashastreasure) January 15, 2013
At the same time the swords are out again against online retailers (like Amazon and eBay), who are being blamed for these job losses and for dragging consumers away from the high street.
Love how everyone seems devastated about #HMV. We're all guilty of buying online too much and damaging the high street.—
Dan Flanders (@FlandersDan) January 15, 2013
Find it amusing that some Jessops stores have signs up blaming amazon. Yes! Bad online retailer selling cheaper. That’s not fair!—
(@Voldemort2013) January 16, 2013
So what exactly is happening to the high street? Is it really online retailers causing the damage or are bricks-and-mortar businesses failing to successfully convert into companies that combine a high street and online presence? Is every retail shop going through same decline?
If we look at HMV and Jessops, they were already struggling to survive due to the advent of the digital content distribution era, where buying music and developing photos from shops became things of past. These businesses have been giving profit warnings now for three or four years and their failure to innovate caused their ultimate demise.
Good point on BBC News - high street book shops should take note now after HMV failure. Downloading is newer so there's time to adapt.—
Stewart Owadally (@sowadally) January 15, 2013
Everyone shocked and sad about HMV, it was inevitable, plus when was the last time any has actually bought something from there?!—
Sam Buca (@sammumford9) January 15, 2013
As if hmv might be shuttin stores down!! What next all top highstreet shops are goin under n closing!! Theres not goin to be owt left!—
Carla (@MissCarlaH21) January 14, 2013
But does this mean the end of the high street, as many renowned retailers are going into administration? Will high streets become ghost towns with a few coffee shops with free Wi-Fi and charity shops, or will they evolve to allow a different way of shopping?
Comet, Jessops and now potentially HMV!! The High Street is crumbling/evolving…you chose how you view it—
Jo Adekanmi (@SimplyMe_JoJo) January 10, 2013
Costa free wifi is surprisingly bloody brilliant.—
Stu Fowler (@SDOTFOWLER) January 08, 2013
For the answer to this we have to look at bigger picture. I have picked some positive examples and experiments being undertaken by some successful retailers in order to remain in, or make a mark on, the high street.
The first one is John Lewis. Despite repeated profit warnings from their immediate competitors like M&S, Top Shop, and H&M, John Lewis has remained at the top of its game by offering unique and quality products with a five-year warranty (for white goods and electronics products) to its customers.
The second one is Apple, who, true to its brand image, is keen to redefine the customer experience by giving them a free hand to play with its products, as well as excellent customer service in its stores, and keeping the online and offline price the same! Not many people know this, but Apple, with no official social network channel, collects its offline store usage data to improve their products and services i.e. use their store for market research!
Much as I loathe Apple, their high street shops at least help you explore the product. More tech shops should copy that model. #jessops—
(@Spag_bella) January 09, 2013
The third type of examples or experiments are from online marketplace eBay and search giants Google, who both have taken an initiative to open popup stores in high streets or within existing retail giants, mainly to do pre-sales, where people can try, scan, play around and ask questions before buying things online!
Haider Alleg (@Haider_Alleg) January 13, 2013
The fourth type of experiment is from again Google. They are working with high street retail stores to deliver products on the same day i.e. the consumer can order a product online and it can be delivered the same day by the nearest offline store!
Modern Shopper (@modshopper) January 11, 2013
my genius (@my_genius) January 17, 2013
It’s worth noting that Jeff Bezos from Amazon categorically denied that Amazon is intending to open high street stores to cater to their consumers, citing high cost and a lack of obvious immediate need. In addition, Amazon have launched a price comparison app to scan any offline product’s image to get cheapest online price.
Overall, despite the reluctance of online retail giants like Amazon to enter the high street zone, consumers like to experience things before buying and retailers need to capture real customers’ data and behaviour; I don’t think the high street will disappear from the map or will become a giant coffee shop with free Wi-Fi for book or newspaper reading on tablets or smartphones. I think it will evolve as a home to those retail giants who can change to meet current consumer demands of high quality with durability, like John Lewis, or can host stores with pre or post sales (i.e. delivery) or subtle market research facilities, like Apple, and new initiatives taken by eBay and Google, such as a Facebook page or twitter channel, where businesses interact with their customers to educate and/or provide post-sales support for their products. However, the whole transition will be very painful, with many job losses and old beloved brands disappearing from the market; and on the retailer’s parts there will be lots of hard work to win digitally-equipped consumers.