· 2 min read · News

HMV's demise is bad news for the high street, employees and consumers


HMV had a good trading day yesterday, according to my sources. Whether it was the public rallying around the beleaguered high street entertainment retailer, which went into administration a mere few hours before doors opened, or vultures feeding on the last remnants before it gives up the ghost remains to be seen. But I for one hope it is the former.

I, it appears however, am in the minority, given yesterday's news, which could see more than 4,000 people lose their jobs.

On the busiest weekend before Christmas I suffered the crowds on London's Oxford Street just to visit HMV's flagship store. I wanted to buy my father a couple of CDs. He's a jazz and opera fan, you see, and I was after inspiration. Yes I could have gone to Amazon, the Attila of the retail world, or to Tesco, Brutus to HMV's Caesar.

But I didn't want to know what others who had a similar taste had previously purchased, and I didn't want the most popular choice of the day. I wanted an expert to talk to me about an area in which my knowledge is limited and who could advise me after asking the right questions.

I have always enjoyed visiting HMV. Of course, it will be argued, it's my age. After all, I still have vinyl at home and, despite the occasional foray onto Spotify, I prefer to chuck a CD into the player. Yup, I'm not the future and it is true HMV, like many other retailers, has been slow to realise that and to change.

But I just can't get excited about a digital purchase in the same way as a physical one. Just as the thrill of going to the cinema still makes it feel 'a night out' to me, so perusing CDs in a store, unsure which one I will buy, talking to the staff, making that purchase and then listening to it at home and discovering my favourite song is not one of the ones I have already heard but something that would probably have made a B side at best in the olden days, gives me a sense of excitement and satisfaction. I remain to be convinced you get the same online.

Business is not there to satisfy little ole me, unfortunately, but its stakeholders. And consumers have voted with their feet and purses (or should I say credit cards), preferring digital downloads and Amazon, so shareholders have finally pulled the rug from under HMV.

Many of us saw it coming as the company has struggled for years to adjust quickly enough to the changing environment. But, if the messages on Twitter are anything to go by, I'm not the only one to mourn its loss - and they aren't all 40-somethings. From Professor Green to Paloma Faith there was a genuine sadness at yesterday's news.

Administrator Deloitte will now seek a buyer and the stores will continue to trade during this process. Reports already show strong interest and the HMV brand certainly has currency. A slimmed down high street presence may result, or it could go the way of Woolworths and MFI, with the brand name remaining online.

Either way, though, this is bad news for employees, bad news for the high street, bad news for a British economy dependent on the service sector at a time we are talking about a triple dip recession, and I believe ultimately bad news for the consumer.

That's unless you are happy with a future dominated by a few global, often digital, brands who know everything about your life but don't pay appropriate UK tax; a future dominated by a residential-based or boarded up high street; a future where the opportunity for low-skilled people is even more limited than today; and a future where even the delight of meeting people shopping (yes, whatever you may think about it, physical shopping plays an important 'social' role in society, particularly for the elderly) has disappeared. As always, we will end up wishing we had done things differently when it's too late.