The retailers best forgotten

Dead mall

I am always out for a bargain to the point that my bank balance looks less thrifty than I feel.

So taking a look around during the sales I visited two high street veterans – Dixons (looking for some satnav) and Jessops (looking for whatever, if anything they have left to offer the keen film photographer).

Both offered a post-apocalyptic experience that made my darker side think they deserve the poor results, poor press and general prangings they have been getting. The more interesting TomToms in the display case at Dixons (which looked like an absent minded squirrel had arranged it) lacked price tags, the staff were uninterested and the whole place stank of disorder and decay. Jessops, which is on life support anyway, was even worse. A handful of people sat at kiosks printing out digital snaps and that was about it. Sad to see the store which effectively popularised photography in the UK circling the drain.

It is easy enough for me to say as I do not have the problems of a massive, deeply troubled retailer to worry about but I felt that both seemed to have missed a crucial change. For Jessops, in an age of digital photography most cameras that are not in fact phones are just pieces of glass attached to some electronics in a little plastic brick. Most consumers have (sadly) no need to hear about what wonderful combinations of lens and film will be great for a portrait, or what motor drive is compatible with what body. The solution was to slim down and go upmarket in terms of service and feel, as price competition with even the likes of Amazon is not possible.  Dixons could learn similar lessons – make shopping a pleasant experience – give people something they cannot get on the net.

On holiday in America I had a chat with the proprietor of a very successful bookstore in Portland Maine about much of this. It was clear upon entering the reasonably large shop that human beings had decided the stock. Sections contained titles an individual intelligence thought were interesting and browsing was essential. I asked her how it was with Amazon et al and she said that the blockbuster based, cold stores like Borders have everything to fear while she does not. It is hard to translate this into a plan for a big retailer, but high street mediocrity is under threat – which for the eclectic and the curious can only be a good thing. Up with Rough Trade and down with Virgin Megastore/Zaavi/whatever.

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