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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

THOUGHTS ON HMV



There was a time when I would buy singles, LPs, cassettes and CDs two or three at a time without thinking too much about cost.  I just had to have the music.  It was exciting, particularly in the old LP days, to get home and lovingly remove the disc from the packaging.  The whole process of getting to town, entering a record shop, browsing for hours and all the rest of it was indeed a joy.

I loved HMV because the range of music on offer was vast.  The bestsellers were there, of course, but the back catalogue of pop, rock, folk and country, my main interests, was a joy to behold.  A couple of hours would pass easily and enjoyably.

HMV was joined in cities by Tower Records, Virgin Records, Borders, Woolworths, WH Smith and some independents in a golden age of variety and choice for customers.  Then came online retailing and this new kid on the retail block slowly but surely began to nibble away at conventional record shops, before biting huge lumps out of the sector.

Tower, Virgin, Borders, Woolworths vanished.  WH Smith clung on but only with a severely limited choice of music.  Supermarkets nipped in and did what they do so well - had price wars and sold a lot of discs.

Price was key, and still is.  Customers have always voted with their feet and wallets, and they still do in droves.  In this era of financial constraint and restraint, no retailer is safe.  In nautical terms, if the unsinkable Titanic can sink, then anything can happen.

My last trip to an HMV store was about a week ago.  HMV in Meadowhall, Sheffield, was one of a few reasons why I would bother to make the trip.  I like record shops and book shops, and only visit clothing and other shops when necessary.  I guess my time as a travelling customer to cities, towns and out-of-town centres is coming to an end.

HMV on that day was busy and there were queues at the tills.  But I couldn't wait to get out of the shop because it was impossible to stand for any length of time to browse.  Shuffling customers in tight aisles just made the whole experience frustrating and next to impossible.  Getting down to the lowest shelf to see what was on offer was a non-starter.  HMV had become a nightmare.

I had three or four things on my list.  I had previewed the items online and had a note of online prices.  HMV had three of the items and all three were far more expensive by comparison.  I did not buy anything.

I am as sad as anyone when a big retail name dies, but survival of the fittest has always been the challenge and the executives running HMV were obviously not good enough at their jobs, letting down the High Street, customers and, most tragically, the workforce.

I am not a big downloader but I realise that in the not too distant future, it might be the only way to buy music. My generation laments.  The next generation will think the whole process of record buying in shops was a cute and quaint thing to do in the old days.  It was.

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