Rigs of the times

ghost townThe catalyst of today’s article is the decline and fall of the high street. Within the space of a few short weeks several long established household names have departed from the High Street for good. The casualty list is growing, since the demise of Woolworths & Ethel Austin last year, they have been joined by the likes of electrical retailer Comet and long time photography retailer Jessops. Game also faced collapse and has somehow managed to survive in a smaller capacity and this week long suffering music retailer HMV and Blockbuster Video are also facing potential collapse. So what went wrong?

…there will come a time when the high street will be lined with Second Hand retailers, quick cash loan stores and fast food outlets assuming that they do not turn into a ghost town altogether.

In most cases it was the fact that the retailers were clinging to outmoded business models that were fine in the past when the only way to buy something was either to visit a shop or through a mail order catalogue. Today’s consumer is very savvy and is always looking out for a bargain. Now we know that in order to maintain a high street presence it can cost a substantial amount of money e.g. shop rental, taxes & staff wages etc. Online retailers have little or none of these overheads and therefore can be more competitive in their pricing while still turning in a respectable profit.

Some of the casualties come as no surprise e.g. HMV’s pricing was simply unrealistic I mean £30 for a Blu-ray that you can get from Play.com for £12-15 now that’s almost a 100% mark up which is ridiculous. Comet were also uncompetitive and made more money from pressure selling extended warranties. Moving onto Blockbuster Video, when was the last time you rented a video or DVD..? Probably years ago. With the advent of online streaming services like Lovefilm, Netflix, iTunes and SkyGo the day of renting a physical disc are over, it makes no logical sense in this day an age. If you want a DVD you can always borrow one from your local public library assuming that your local council hasn’t closed it down because of government cutbacks or pick one up from your local supermarket, pound shop etc.

All of this made me think of the classic folk song by Martin Carthy “Rigs of the times” which he has changed over the years to reflect the ever changing fabric of our society.

I wondered what Martin would write about today’s events… Here’s my take on a verse:

A Comet fades away
while Jessops hits the ground
Who needs the High Street
When there’s Amazon around
Honesty’s gone out of fashion
These are the rigs of the times

So what is the future for the High Street? At the rate that stores are disappearing there will come a time when the high street will be lined with Second Hand retailers, quick cash loan stores and fast food outlets assuming that they do not turn into a ghost town altogether. In some areas this is already happening. For example, in Rochdale, after a 25 year presence McDonalds pulled out of the city centre preferring to concentrate their trade on the nearby retail park.

It goes without saying that these are challenging times for the High Street, while the Administrator’s count the cost it is ultimately the staff made redundant and we the consumer that will end up paying the price.

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