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HMV and Sympathy

Retail results for Christmas are underwhelming and the high street is on it's knees. This week HMV, which has long been in trouble, and Blockbusters have gone into administration. I suspect that the former, at least, will survive. Ironically the eponymous video GAME retailer, itself in trouble almost this time last year, is considering buying them out. Even more ironically last time I was in town HMV - two doors down from what was Gamestation (now fully rebranded by their parent company GAME) - were advertising their superior trade in offers for video games. How the mighty have fallen?

For several months HMV has been in the danger zone, yet you wouldn't know it to look at them. Their shops gave no indication of problems; nothing was reduced in price, the shelves were not empty and they were even trading in any old cd/dvd for a £ a piece in some bizarre bid to capitalise on the second hand market. End result, they had a bargain rack full of second hand tat no one in their right mind was ever going to buy (certainly not with a CEX round the corner). Their stock was, in fact still is, highly expensive as brand new merchandise goes. Even their second hand video games were dear.

The problem with these shops isn't down to just one thing: it isn't just the recession, though that certainly has exacerbated things. it isn't just the relentless march of the supermarkets, unfettered by regulation or planning considerations or even the will of residents nearby. It isn't just the online market, as many of these shops, certainly HMV, also trade online.

For me the real core of the issue is the inflexibility of head office. The senior people, who no doubt see themselves as experienced retail gurus, think they know what works. They think that what might work in store x, which might be somewhere affluent, will work everywhere. They are not interested in selling stuff off cheap or doing deals with customers. Everything is cross referenced on their computers and if the network says that if a brand new dvd is £15 then come hell or high water that's the price it WILL be sold at. Of course this is then easily undermined by online sales and second hand stores (like the aforementioned and grubby CEX). These people are more interested in making a buck no matter the cost. Sadly it's not them that will pay the price, it's the staff.

Ultimately this period of closures is really just a temporary phase; it's a period of readjustment while bigger players and powers reshuffle the order of the high street. It will further homogenise the makeup of high streets as big players become bigger like the current supermarket chains. I wouldn't be surprised if Tesco has a hand in buying out HMV. 

What we need, and where the answer lies, is in fact the reverse: smaller shops. Independent businesses that give colour to individual high streets and communities. Places that couldn't exist on a bigger scale catering to what the people around them want. Instead of what is frankly an awful shopping experience (unless you like listening to Lady GaGa and are only interested in 'chart' dvd's at premium prices) an independent music or dvd shop would exist to cater to the surrounding market. Not tracking the top 10 nor pandering to trends or fads (like HMV does with it's selection of 'cool' autobiographies and books about bands or banksy). We need to say no to the encroaching big players before we lose everything. Sure I can buy dvd's from Tesco, as well as even books and video games, but Tesco know fuck all about what i want to watch listen to or play and have no real means to properly sell stuff, other than as a loss leader. I don't read Jamie Oliver books, nor do I want to buy Downton Abbey dvd's.

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