Looking out from Archant Towers to a sea of white brings back childhood memories of days off from forced school closures playing in the snow in Cromer. Memories of your youth often have key points that not only stick in your mind but also often come up in conversations with friends such as “what was the first record you ever bought?”.

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I can clearly remember going into Woolworths in Cromer with my mum to buy Ultravox’s Love’s Great Adventures which started a love affair with music I still have.

Sadly, I now doubt that my boys will have that same experience and memories.

I cannot believe that a click on a box on a website will illicit such strong emotions some 30 years later. This brings me to the current retail stalwart to struggle: HMV.

HMV opened its first store in Oxford Street, London, in 1921 and currently has 231 stores – all of which are now under threat as it moves into administration. The future of HMV is now clearly in the balance and there is a strong potential that it could go the way of Our Price and Andy’s Records as fond childhood memories. This despite the fact that last year, according to Verdict Research, HMV accounted for 22pc of all music and video sales in the UK

Most commentators are putting the blame squarely on the rise of music e-commerce combined with the growth in online services such as Spotify and iTunes. Those certainly are major factors but they have their own pressures. A major online-only competitor was Play.com which has recently ceased to be a straight retailer, caused by the closing of the Low Value Consignment relief tax loophole which meant that prices were cheaper as they were imported from the Channel Islands.

But the fact remains that most of the people I know purchase single tracks or whole albums in digital form only – if only to reduce storage space in their homes.

Other contributing factors have been glossed over, such as the fact that, as a nation, we are buying less music than we did 10 years ago.

The fact that music retailers faced competition not just from the internet, but also from the supermarkets and their purchasing power, was a major reason for many independent music stores closing.

Despite all of this, could HMV have done more to survive?

That is a difficult question. Certainly you could argue that it could have reacted earlier and more strongly on the threat from online.

You could also argue that the stores could have had more focus and become more experience-focused. However, when revenue pressure starts and you move down the “pile high discount” model its a difficult one to escape and to move to creating a store that people want to visit rather than are afraid about knocking over piles of cheap DVDs.

What HMV still does have, though, is brand value in its name and peoples emotions regarding the brand.

On the day of the announcement #HMVmemories started trending on twitter, you didn’t see that with Comet.

I truly hope that someone recognises a potential here and starts again with the brand. However they will need to be strong in retail, marketing, branding and also digital and companies who have managed to master all of these are extremely rare.

1 comment

  • Enjoyable article. I would agree that HMV 'could' and probably should have been more experience focused but as you point out they were in a very product-centric business. It would have taken some guts to make a drastic change (http:bit.lyVYcaHQ) and hopefully they can emerge intact albeit with less staff and stores. I think we're seeing a resurgence in the popularity of niche and boutique shopping experiences (see The Lanes) and it might be something HMV can aim for (at least in spirit) when they hit the reset button. In some ways it became difficult to distinguish between HMV and GAME for example other than for largely cosmetic differences. As these chains try to do more and more we care about them less and less.

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    Evan Thomas

    Thursday, January 24, 2013