UK music retailer HMV is closing another of its London stores. The shop in Islington will shut for business on 25 January 2014. This follows the news that the 150 Oxford Street store will soon become a Sports Direct.
Apart from closing shops, launching a rather poor (non-transactional) website and talking about ‘digital strategy’ it’s hard to understand what new owners Hilco are actually DOING.
I was in Belfast over Christmas and there is a record shop there called “Head” which effortlessly does all the things that HMV doesn’t. They were stocking loads of box sets (not hidden away), masses of vinyl, had a section for local music, an excellent A to Z, decent prices and seemed to employ lots of staff. They even had some of the new High Fidelity Pure Audio releases in the racks, which was impressive to see. It’s true, Head also sell DVDs and blu-rays, but somehow you still feel like you’re in a RECORD shop, as if they do so grudgingly. Front of house, with other deluxe sets (Nick Drake’s Tuck Box) they had three of Primal Scream’s round Screamadelica 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Editions on the floor for £75 each – cheaper than Amazon.
The HMV in Belfast is awful by comparison. As usual, you always have to go upstairs or out of the way to find the actual music. Premium product in the eyes of Hilco and HMV are DVD and Blu-ray box sets because they are always given the most prominent placement. Music is always secondary in HMV to movies. It’s the same in the now-doomed Islington Store; apart from a sliver of new releases, or 2-for-£10 type offers, the first two-thirds of the shop is taken up with DVDs, Blu-ray, ‘Technology’, Games, Books, Doctor Who key-rings, T-shirts etc. At the very back is an A to Z section from which anything over £20 seems ‘banned’. For example the Tears For Fears The Hurting box set (a reasonable £33) is kept behind the counter at the front of store, where you have to go up like a schoolboy and ask to ‘view’ the item. Can’t imagine they’ve sold many of those, but it’s easier to blame Amazon or ‘the internet’ than this ridiculous practice that deters sales. People are losing their jobs as high margin product is kept out of sight.
I can’t really see HMV still being here in 12 months time unless Hilco pull their finger out and do something to radically transform the ‘customer experience’. The problem as I see it, is that HMV no longer view their customers as music fans or enthusiasts, and therefore the stores do not treat them as such. HMV customers now seem to be viewed as general consumers who might pop in to pick up a Dark Knight box set, buy a Mars Bar, and perhaps be tempted by the latest Robbie Williams album or a compilation. Anything more than that, and they haven’t got the stock or the staff to cope.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at this HMV job vacancy advertisement for Christmas staff (‘Seasonal Colleague’). Can you spot the missing word? HMV apparently no longer consider themselves a music retailer, because there is no mention of the word MUSIC amongst the bland talk of ‘products’, ‘market knowledge’ and ‘exceptional service’. You’d think they would demand a ‘passion for music’ or a maybe a ‘broad knowledge of classic rock/pop’, but they don’t.
I guess you could ask ‘why should they?’. HMV are no longer a ‘music shop’. They are the self-styled ‘home of entertainment’ of which music now forms a small part. They are a jack of all trades, but masters of none. Staff need to know about iPads, headphones, Wiis, Downtown Abbey, Mad Men, Call Of Duty and the-new-Miley-Cyrus album.
The one thing Amazon and online stores can never do is offer specialist knowledge about music before you purchase. You cannot, for example, have a friendly chat with a member of staff about whether you should opt for the vinyl version of Eric Clapton’s Give Me Strength set over the CD box. Rather than using that to their advantage HMV have tried to do what Amazon does and sell lots of things with no real specialist knowledge in any area. But with a finite amount of space in each store, when you sell lots of things you end up concentrating on the bestsellers. This strategy allowed HMV to blame music for not earning its keep, amongst console games and blu-rays, rather than its own strategy. And so the music gets literally pushed to the back of the shop or hidden behind the counter and – surprise, surprise – HMV report declining music sales.
The question is no longer will HMV survive, but rather, is it really going to matter to your average SuperDeluxeEdition reader if it doesn’t? The retailer is surely a sad and disfigured entity. You know it was once a music shop because you remember it as such, but the car crash of mismanagement has left it contorted and unrecognisable; a shadow of its former self.
Can HMV be saved? Leave a comment with your views.
Paul Sinclair is Editor of SDE / Follow on Twitter @sdedition