We all know in the last decade there has been much talk about the death of the music industry and one aspect that has possibly changed the most is the way we retail music. The usual bores always blame downloading and the record labels are naively trying so hard to get the industry back to it’s 1990’s heyday rather than looking forward.
Wishing for that is pointless, a bit like wishing that the smoking ban will be lifted and we can all go back to wartime Britain when everyone thought smoking was actually good for you!
There’s been much in the press lately about the forthcoming death of HMV, with many people saying this cannot be allowed to happen. Their argument usually revolves around the fact that there won’t be anywhere to buy music on the High Street, I believe the opposite would happen and it could be the start of the return of the independents.
In 1996, my local High Street opened a huge HMV superstore, it was massive. I remember my first visit there, I couldn’t believe I had a shop like this within a few minutes walk from my house. It was like a local version of the flagship store on Oxford Street in London… a shop that I loved so much as a teenager and would travel to London just to visit.
In 1996 we had we 6 other small independent record shops in Norwich and a Virgin Megastore alongside several second hand record shops, within 4 years all the independents except 1 had gone. Now I know there are various reasons for this, the supermarkets started selling cheap chart cd’s and you would get the occasional cd online from Amazon but despite what people tell you, between 1996 and 2000 the internet had very little impact on why my city lost most of its shops.
I blame the HMV superstore
In 2011 all but 1 of the second hand record shops remain, so how come they could survive but not the shops selling new music? In the 11 years since, we all know that Virgin Megastore has closed leaving HMV and one independent that only sells drum and bass white labels to pillheads. Meaning that any music fans in our city are left without anywhere to buy new music.
So what is currently so bad about HMV?
Pricing – What on earth are HMV up to with this? One week a CD is £10, the next it’s £22 and the next it’s £6 and then it goes into the ‘Two for £10’ section. It’s all so random and all over the place. I don’t think anyone minds paying an extra £1 compared to online prices as you know the overheads are higher but HMV really take the biscuit sometimes to the point where you just don’t bother even looking and just order online. What also bugs me (and this has happened more than once to me) is you go to the section for the band you are looking for and the CD is a tenner. After paying as you leave the store you notice the same CD is in another section in the ‘Two for £10’. Now hang on, that’s just plain dishonest, charging one person more for something than another. Another reason to shop online… do I really need to search the whole shop to make sure I get the best deal?
Service – Record shops are famous for bad customer service, HMV have done very little to buck that trend. Although the staff are nowhere as bad as Jack Black in the scene below, this is something they aspire to but the reality is you can’t be cool working in HMV when 90% of the stuff you sell are either games or cut price DVD’s to chav’s and pensioners. Yet they literally push you out of the way when they want to restock the shelves (although there’s one really nice woman who works in the Chapelfield branch in Norwich) and the beardy blokes literally show the customers nothing but contempt. On top of this, there’s the queues…. as soon as it’s only 5 people long half the staff behind the counter clear off almost as if there should be a queue.
Product – Now HMV had an opportunity to really seize this market when Zavvi/Virgin went under in 2009 as they no longer had any competitors on the High Street. No, they decided they would realign themselves with some new competitors. You may be thinking, “what is he on about?” 18 months ago HMV found themselves in the situation of being the sole remaining music retail chain, lucky devils. So with sales of vinyl [source] growing, the chain decided to stop stocking it in the majority of its stores! Madness…!!! Instead they decide to go heavy with DVD’s and computer games which you can easily get elsewhere. There are already many stores selling games on the High Street and the market is falling from the value of these, the majority of people now refuse to pay more than a fiver for a DVD whilst they are buying milk and bread at their local supermarket. If I wanna watch a film I can also watch it via my set top box for £3, so why would I need to go into a HMV and pay £16. I’ll pay £3 now and if I love the film I’ll get the DVD for less than a fiver in a few months from the supermarket. HMV’s strategy is clearly not to be a market leader, they are just chasing anything they can find.
Community – This is another area HMV could clean up, sell music by local artists! One band I released an album by in 2008 got great reviews in all the music monthlies and a big review in NME. There were 2 other releases that week that got similar press. The bands local HMV had big displays of the other 2 releases but only ordered 1 copy of the local band and that was sold by 9.05am. THEY DIDN’T BOTHER TO STOCK A SUCCESSFUL LOCAL BAND! Just who is doing the buying for HMV? They do not know their customers. Yet another wasted opportunity. Are you beginning to pick up on my frustration yet?
Point of Difference – And this is where the problem really lies, what is HMV’s point of difference? There isn’t one anymore, they are chasing the supermarkets but the supermarkets will happily lose money on music because they’ll make money elsewhere. Unless HMV start selling food they are frankly finished. There’s no nice way of putting it, the shops look chaotic and cheap, there’s posters and balloons everywhere which look trashy, the layout is cluttered with piles of stickered junk everywhere, nothing in the shop feels special and something you really must own, it all feels disposable. Half ot it will be in Oxfam or a landfill site in 2 years. Just why clear out space that could be used to sell quality products for hundreds of cheap books about Justin Beiber or JLS which retail for £1 each?
Do I want to see HMV fail? No. I don’t want any of the staff to be made redundant and I don’t want there to be less places to buy music but it just doesn’t feel like a good place to shop anymore, it’s a mess and you can get everything in their from ASDA, Tesco or Sainsbury’s. But more frustrating is the fact it doesn’t sell anything I want, I buy music but I can never find anything in HMV I want to buy, it’s all mainstream crap. Instead of catering for the music geeks who buy stuff regularly, they cater for the average joe who buys 1 album a year (usually in ASDA). If they sold more niche products they’d have a more loyal customer base. I hope someone at their head office reads this and at least thinks for 5 mins about what they are doing. If the shops are anything to go by I doubt it, they’ll be too busy reading Heat or Reveal magazine.
Finally, just to show not all service in HMV is bad, here’s proof.