Everyone knows that High Street retail outlets (aka Shops) are about to disappear because they cannot compete with the internet. Right?
Perhaps we’ve been down this road before.
A good example would be the explosion of interest in Hi-Fi (that’s with an H, not a W) in the 1960s and 70s.
Specialist outlets existed allowing potential customers to listen to, and try out, the various Pioneer, Heathkit, and Akai units, and witness how a change in speakers could make the world of difference.
And they weren’t cheap. Handmade Wharfdale or B&W speakers, or electrostatic Quads, could easily double the price of a complete Hi-Fi centre.
As the larger discount and stores moved into the field the smaller high street units were hit hard. Now, potential customers could spend half the day comparing prices from the specialist in the high street, then wonder down the street to a discount store and buy the unit at 20-30% less.
The only real drawback to this – from the customers point of view – was, what happened if something was seriously wrong with the unit. Most discount stores offered some form of after-sales service, but it was often rudimentary, and frequently involved the repair taking place over several weeks and there is nothing as aggrevating as having paid for your new TV, DVD or of whatever gadget only to have it taken away immediately for an uncertain period while the fault was ‘fixed’.
The outcome of the Specialised Hi-Fi shop v. the Electronic Discount Stores led to the end of the former.
What’s interesting about this example of the Hi-Fi market taking off is that almost the same thing has happened with the family PC or mobile phones.
But there’s a twist in the tail of this. The customer can now walk down the High Street, or drive to the out-of-town centre of a hypermarket, walk up and down the rows of computers, accessories and, would you believe (?) Hi-Fi centres ….. and then go back home and compare the price against others, including coupons, special end-of-range offers and free delivery.
Some retailers report that this is now so blatant that customers often phone the PC manufacturers (or agents) direct, while still in the shop.
The retail outlets do have some scope to retain customers. By far the most important is recruiting staff who really know their subject and can help and guide the customer with trusted advice. This is what the Apple Store is all about: but it needs developing outside the company’s showroom.
And, although at first glance the merchanise in the various types of outlet looks the same, in fact it isn’t. This is where manufacturers or importers keep distinct (albeit it similar) model ranges that differ depending on the prime activity
In a later piece we will be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the High Street when it comes to the fashion business.