Downturn claims another victim on changing high street
THERE was yet more carnage on the high street yesterday with another household name falling victim to the recession.
HMV became the latest in a long list of retailers which has been knocked sideways by the double whammy of falling spending and the rise of online shopping.
The problems facing the music and film specialist have not been a secret but the fall of another major company still came as a shock.
HMV has two shops in Bristol, in Broadmead and The Mall, and an estimated 60 staff have been left facing a very uncertain future after it was revealed the administrators have been called in.
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The 91-year-old firm, with its historic branding linked to a Bristol dog called Nipper, employed more than 4,000 people across the country.
And it follows in the wake of the collapse of camera firm Jessops and electrical retailers Comet.
Both HMV and Jessops were struggling to survive and finally went under after the all-important Christmas rush failed to deliver a reprieve.
According to research from the British Retail Consortium there was an 18 per cent increase in online shopping this Christmas with more and more of us turning to the internet to do our shopping.
The massive surge in the popularity of tablets and is expected to fuel the demand even further.
All three – Jessops, Comet and HMV – had or have branches in the Bristol area and have been badly hit by the rise of the internet – which is not only cheaper but also much more convenient.
A quick stroll around Bristol centre underlines the problems facing the high street. There are almost 50 shops standing empty in a city centre which is one of the more prosperous in the country.
The list of stores which have fallen by the wayside in the last five years include the likes of Woolworths, Julian Graves, Game, La Senza, Peacocks and JJB Sports.
The list makes for depressing reading and some parts of the centre of Bristol have been particularly badly hit. Many questioned the wisdom of the £400 million investment in Cabot Circus at a time when the recession was starting in earnest but there is no doubt that the shopping centre has transformed the fortunes of Bristol.
Before Cabot Circus arrived the city was an also-ran in the national retail stakes both in terms of revenue and numbers of shoppers
Bristol is now on the verge of joining the top ten in the premier league of shopping centres.
But there can be no denying the fact that large parts of the city have taken a battering including The Galleries Shopping centre and some parts of Broadmead.
Changes in shoppers' habits have not helped the situation in recent years.
Sam Crawford helps to run the Independent Bristol Ticket Shop in Union Street. He said: "It is so much cheaper to buy online now. In fact Play.com just announced it is not going to be trading any more, it is just going to be a market, so even online they're finding difficulties with shifting hard copy music, which was always the way it was going to go, I think, with music because it's such an intangible commodity. Luckily for us people still want to go and see live music. Hopefully there will never be any substitute for that."
Craig Cawthorne works at Bristol property firm Jones Lang LaSalle and is an expert in the retail sector.
He said: "Online retail now represents just over ten per cent of total retail spend. We expect it to top 20 per cent by 2020.
"It has already hit that level in some sectors – particularly those of recent casualties HMV, Jessops and Comet, where it has been argued these players were slow to react to the online challenge."
Despite the series of high-profile failures it is not all doom and gloom for retailers willing to adapt and change. For every failure there is an example of a company which has continued to prosper in the face of tough trading conditions.
The John Lewis store at Cribbs Causeway is one of the most successful stores in the South West and manages to combine both its online and shop operations successfully.
Customers are happy to browse in the store and then buy from the comfort of their home.
Many of the big name fashion brands have continued to do well and shoppers still seem to prefer buying clothes on the high street rather than online.
Mr Cawthorne said: "Successful retailers and landlords will be the ones who adapt to survive and present a true multi-channel experience, for example click and collect services, or Cabot Circus' recent tie up with Google to show where particular products or brands are on sale, even simple tricks like free wi-fi in coffee shops. These sort of developments will help ensure that bricks and mortar remain relevant for many years to come."
Capital Shopping Centres, the multi-national firm which owns the Mall, is also keen to keep up with its customers' spending habits.
The firm has launched a £25 million revamp across the country aimed at connecting up its shopping centre and internet business.
The firm is installing free wi-fi in all of its shopping centres so shoppers can log on to the internet and its website from their smartphones and hunt for the latest bargains.
The plan is to sell clothes and accessories from its tenants and other retailers through its own website.
Capital hopes the move will increase spending for its tenants in store and online, with greater footfall and shoppers staying longer.
While the big shopping centres have been badly hit the situation is even grimmer in the suburbs. In Bedminster around one in five shops are vacant.
The area has been given a £100,000 grant under the so-called Portas Scheme and the idea is to put the focus on independent stores rather keeping faith with the national chains. Retail expert turned TV presenter Mary Portas was commissioned by the Government to take a close look at the problems of the high street and came up with a series of ideas which includes handing back the power to make decisions about an area to local people and fostering a community spirit.
Ben Barker, from the Greater Bedminster Community Partnership, has played a key role in the scheme and believes if people work together they can make a difference.
He said: "We are working with local people to improve the are. Of course, West Street has been in decline for 20 years or so, so turning it round is not going to be easy, cheap or quick. But, you have to start somewhere."