Is the High Street dead?

With news last week that Comet has had to call in the administrators and the week before that over 30 stores a day on the high street are closing their doors the high street is obviously a very tough place to do business. With over 7,000 people potentially loosing their jobs Comet is a significant casualty and one, that I feel at least, could have been avoided.

We recently completed the refit of our NOC in Hemel, and while I was there one day I thought it would be good to add a few more LED screens to the monitoring wall. So armed with the stock code I decided to call all the high street chains (Argos, PC World, Comet, Dixons etc) to see if they had a couple in stock I could come and collect that afternoon. It should be said as well that all these companies showed stock of the model of TV I wanted on their websites. And to my surprise none of them held any stock but they could, helpfully, get some in for the next day. I did explain that this wasn’t helpful and that if I was going to spend £2,000 on screens and wait a day I might as well do that online and get them delivered.

So these companies are maintaining large stores all across the country but can’t facilitate a customer getting the item they want there and then? It seems ridiculous to think that these companies have been around much longer than the likes of Amazon but have completely missed the potential of their business and properly looked towards the future (ie Internet) and how it would not only change their business but also improve it. Surely we all saw the demise of HMV when the likes of LoveFilm and Netflix exist – who still owns shares in Blockbuster for example? It is the same challenge that companies such as Kodak had to fight with the launch of digital cameras. They should have been the leader, but instead of embracing change they were worried about loosing their traditional revenue streams.

I am not saying that they necessarily had to be the quickest to market but with the likes of the supermarkets now catching on with pressure from businesses such as Ocado it shows it is possible. Even John Lewis seem to have managed to still create a strong online presence and one that matches their physical stores while focusing on quality and impeccable levels of service.

Lets not also forget the number of successful high street stores. While I understand a lot of Apple’s success has been down to their product development, a big part must also point towards their stores which not only sell their products (at similar pricing to online) but also offer other services. They can repair and upgrade hardware but also provide lessons and classes on how to get the most out of their products. Their shops are nice places to be, architecturally interesting and expensive looking – something that reflects the quality of their products.

In the future the high street is going to be much more of a services place rather than a place to buy a product. Going for a meal, drink or haircut is already a given but I think we will see a higher number of other services such as doctors and dentists vying for passing traffic. If I was CEO of Boots I would definitely look at making my stores more like mini GP practices which would compliment in store items along with the strong web presence.

I don’t think Comet will be the last casualty but let’s hope some of those brands left start to change their retail model before they all disappear.

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