Not for the first time, my intended blog has been overtaken by events. I had intended to write about the demise of photo retailer Jessops, as I am a keen amateur photographer myself and have therefore visited their branches on numerous occasions. However I am also a keen music fan, who has bought many records and other merchandise from places such as HMV throughout the years, and its downfall, announced this evening (14th January 2013) is disappointing, but like the collapse of Jessops, is no surprise.
Photo: Ronnie Soo
It was late last week when the photographic equipment chain Jessops announced that they had gone into administration, after a difficult few years that saw them only stave off a previous administration by doing a debt for equity deal with bankers HSBC. As with many other businesses, the chain faced tough competition from online retailers and with the firm having many branches across the UK (a result of expansion during the 1990s, before the digital camera revolution), they had a lot of rent to find to keep those stores viable. The photography scene has changed beyond recognition since the 1990s, as film has been almost completely replaced by digital photography, meaning people no longer visit the stores in order to buy film and get it developed, then come back to buy camera equipment another time. Added to that the fact that the likes of Amazon can consistently undercut the prices on the high street, and the prospects appeared bleak. Another camera retail chain, Jacobs (coincidentally also based in Leicester, the UK town that is the home of Jessops) went bust in 2012 citing similar problems.
The Jessops demise is another pointer to the increasing move away from High Street shopping in favour of online retail. Ironically their former chairman, David Adams, left the business to join HMV in the hope of turning around the music retailer, but that has also proved too difficult. HMV has also seen its business change beyond recognition, as people deserted the stores in favour of either buying their CDs online from Amazon or simply downloading them. The previous reliance on the office worker customer who would pop in during lunchtime and buy two or three CDs, the so-called 'Fifty Quid Bloke', melted away as thirty-something customers, those with that sort of disposable income, changed to shopping for their music online at a time more suited to them.
Online retail has many advantages for the busy person: there is no need to travel into town, pay for parking and queue up. The online store never closes, it is available of a night and will deliver to your door and all for a price more competitive than can be found in your local record store. That's as true for a camera retailer as it is for a music store, and there are only going to be more traditional businesses looking over their shoulders as the High Street changes for ever.
Is there a future for traditional stores in the Internet age? For the chain stores such as Jessops, HMV and before that Comet (who collapsed in Autumn 2012) the prospects are not good. Perhaps the only hope is smaller stores, offering something different that the big boys do not, but as more shops become boarded up, or turn into pound stores and charity shops, it is clear we are seeing an irreversible trend in the way we do our shopping.
As a photography fan, and also a music lover I am sad to see both chains fall, however despite the fact I have spent a lot of money in both down the years, that hasn't been the case in more recent times as they both only reluctantly got into online retailing. It is clear that many other customers have changed their shopping habits, and as neither chain geared up sufficiently to embrace that change, that is why both have bitten the dust.