The Changing Face of Consumerism XI: Back Down on the Street, or, Going for Bust

So a mere matter of days after my last piece on the struggling high street, I woke up this morning to more news of high street stores experiencing a drop in like-for-like sales in comparison to the same time last year, with HMV delivering particularly disappointing figures marked by sales being down 8.2% in December 2010. It is disappointing, too. Of the bigger chain music stores, I always preferred HMV (although Andy’s records had the edge for a while both in terms of pricing and range). First and foremost, they carried a broader selection with less mainstream releases sitting alongside the chart material. And, while a tad pricey, their range of back-catalogue titles was far superior to Overprice / Virgin.

But rather than work to their strengths and make a virtue of their difference, HMV followed the template of its competitors and having killed off the (albeit limited) vinyl section in favour of calendars and games, continued over a lengthy period of time to reduce the music stock – to make room for more games, DVDs and gadgetry. When the music occupies the smallest portion of a music retailer’s floor space, you have to ask questions. HMV’s struggling is an example of how diversification can be counterproductive, and rather than appealing to a broader customer base, can serve to alienate the one already established. How can a music retailer seriously expect to compete in other markets already dominated by specialists. More often than not, gamers will head to somewhere like Game for games, just as you’d probably go to a clothes shop for clothes, a bookstore for books, an electrical store for electrical goods – unless, of course, they go to the supermarket for the whole lot. After a while, I stopped asking questions and also stopped going in, because each time I did I found myself leaving empty-handed and frustrated because they never had the title I was after in stock. I’d invariably end up purchasing my music on-line because I couldn’t source it anywhere else.

I don’t for a second mean to suggest that I’m responsible for HMV’s declining sales (and I certainly played no part La Senza, the purveyors of slinky lingerie, being called into administration with a loss of 1,300 jobs, prompting headlines such as ‘Lingerie firm goes bust’ etc.), but while my musical tastes may be ‘minority’, there are many other minorities just like me, and collectively, they represent a substantial market.

As mentioned in passing in my previous piece, it’s not just music that I have problems tracking down, and it’s not always obscure items I struggle to find in shops either. As if to prove the point, only this week I decided I wanted to get a desk lamp. As my desk also happens to be the dining table and space is of a premium, I figured a desk lamp that clamps onto the shelves to the side of the table would be the best bet. But could I find one anywhere? Working out of time, my choices on a lunchtime were limited, but there is an Argos superstore and BHS Home Store (yes, British Home Stores Home Store) which specialises in goods for the, er, home, rather than home and clothing. A quarter of the store is given to a lighting department, but unless I wanted a lime-green desk-lamp with a regular base I was out of luck. That is, unless I wanted a ludicrously glitzy lamp shade with dangling glass bits all over it, which I most certainly didn’t. Argos carry a much more substantial range of desk lights, from bendy to angle-poise, but the only clamping ones are LED lamps, which just don’t give off enough light. I’d still need to put on the main ceiling light to see my screen, which defeats the purpose of a desk light I can angle in my corner without illuminating the whole room. Really, how hard can it be to find a simple item like a clamp-fitting desk lamp that takes a proper, regular bulb?

The answer is that it’s not hard at all. Five minutes on-line and I found I was spoiled for choice. Even so, on-line shopping is no substitute for real shopping as it’s often hard to get a sense of the precise dimensions or appearance of an item – you can’t ‘feel the quality’ from a description and photo, however detailed. Thankfully, it transpired that a local independent store I pass on my way through town after work had the best selection of all. Once again, hooray for the independents!

 

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A clip-on desk lamp, earlier today

 

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Order! Order! Book Retailer Defies Logic and Sends OCD Shoppers to the Edge

I’ll admit that I’m prone to extreme pedantry and display many behaviours that are classic traits of the obsessive, the anally retentive. To be honest, I’m fine with that. I have a lot of books, records and CDs, and so storing them in alphabetical order by author or artist makes sense if I want to avoid having to spend hours rooting through haphazard piles of stuff. That I store items in order of publication or release date for those authors or artists I have multiple items by is also helpful, if not quite as essential, and that all of my records are stored with the A-side facing the front and records and CDs are kept with the labels the right way up is simply a preference. In a world where have very little control over anything, it’s comforting to maintain a sense of order in those aspects of my life where it actually benefits me. I choose the alphabetical by author / artist system because it’s ‘the standard’. Libraries, book stores, record stores… the simple fact id that it makes sense and is based on an indisputable logic.

Yesterday, for something to do and because, since they became a ‘media’ store rather than a music store (CDs now occupy less space than DVDs and are generally receive equal billing to console games), HMV have been known to stock some reasonable cult fiction at generously discounted prices. Burroughs, Palahniuk, Bukowski, Plath; all names I spotted amidst the predictable selection of music-related books, celebrity biographies and populist cack, and all with a decent whack off the RRP.

What perplexed me, however, was the arrangement of said books on the shelves. Stephen King books were interspersed throughout the display, which was some five shelves high and eight to ten feet wide. Burroughs’ The Place of Dead Roads was somewhere in the middle, while Kurt Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect was on the top shelf on the far left. What the fuck?

It actually took me a little while to realise that the books were arranged alphabetically by title. Apart from biographies, which were placed by order of the surname of their subject. And apart from books about a band, in which case the book’s placing was dictated by the name of the band. And apart from Frankie Boyle’s My Shit Life So Far, which appeared to be amongst the Cs.

On reflection, I suppose that’s probably right.

Of course, this begs the question, why aren’t the CDs arranged using the same system?

 

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