Online retail is not the death of the high street; it’s the rebirth of the high street.

This weeks post is by MSc Brand Leadership student Karl Brooks.

ImageThere are important lessons to be learned from HMV’s failings. Don’t just use your physical space to sell hundreds of products.

I recently wrote a piece of coursework on the future of branding, specifically over the next ten years. I argued the high street was on its last legs, perhaps fatally wounded by the internet but limping on for now. I didn’t think this was completely unreasonable, given just how useful and brilliant some online services were compared to their high street rivals. On Thursday 17th January I travelled to London with classmates and visited Fitch, a global design consultancy who put the consumer and the consumer experience at the heart of everything they do. They spoke about the demise of HMV and what it meant for the high street. What they told me and my classmates was fascinating, and really got me thinking. Fitch explained that online retail didn’t mean the death of the high street at all, but the rebirth of the high street, a new age of exciting, consumer-centric physical spaces. It was only the death of shops that didn’t move with the times.

When I thought about it, it was no surprise that HMV had died, and while it was easy to blame online giants like Amazon, HMV really only had HMV to blame. It didn’t put up a fight, it was lazy, unadventurous and it paid the price.

Before Christmas I had time to kill waiting in Norwich city centre so decided to go into HMV to look at some DVD’s, CD’s and Xbox games. I browsed for a bit but to be honest it was a mess, rows and rows of stuff and if it didn’t fit on the shelves it was piled up on the floor. I couldn’t really be bothered to sort through hundreds of films I didn’t want to watch to find one that I did. I was looking through some CD’s and pulled out a Coldplay CD. I’m a huge Coldplay fan, and I remembered that their tour DVD was out, so I set out to find it, shouldn’t be too hard in HMV. Not quite, firstly, I couldn’t find the music DVD’s because they were shoved up the corner away from the rest of the music. When I did find them they were all over the place. I spent some time sifting through and looking for the DVD but it wasn’t there.

We don’t really need to go out to buy stuff anymore. I didn’t need to buy the DVD from HMV; if I had gone online I could have found the DVD, had it ordered in a few minutes, if that, and even delivered the next day if I wanted. So what was the point in HMV anymore, it was no longer relevant. HMV deserved to die, was the damning verdict from Fitch.

So, we don’t need to, it doesn’t mean we don’t. We still want to; we mostly still prefer and enjoy shopping offline, in the high street. However, it is time every high street retailer realised it can never be as convenient as online retail, they simply cannot compete, but what these retailers can compete on is the magic, or as Fitch calls it the joy of shopping. If, like HMV you lose the magic and just become about finding it, buying it, using it, consumers won’t want to come to you anymore.

Fitch showed us some of the exciting projects they had worked on, and the project that stuck out in my mind was for Asian Paints. Fitch created the Asian Paints Colour Store, a paint store that sold no paint, to accompany the Asian Paint stores. The new store used using digital tools to provide a consumer experience. Consumers can dream and explore different colours, creating schemes, alongside Asian Paints consultants, which they can share on social media and use as a brief for Asian Paints consultants. The Asian Paints stores had a 35% increase in sales, by giving consumers a new space to use their imagination and engage.


Every high street brand should learn from this. It’s not about walking into shops to find what we need anymore; we can do that online, quicker and easier. Shops have to open up and give consumers the opportunity to dream and explore. That doesn’t mean everyone has to do what Asian Paints did, but just find a way to engage consumers, free up space and time and let them do their thing.

Even if it means people don’t buy in store, they are more likely to go online and find you. Fitch stressed that this transition should be seamless. A brands high street store should not be different to its online offering; they should be one in the same. It doesn’t matter if consumers don’t buy products in store, if they go home and buy them online from the same brand. In fact, if a brand can get consumers coming in store and then buying from them online, the opportunities are blown wide open. Brands will be given canvasses to create provocative, breath-taking consumer experiences, which is an incredibly exciting prospect.

To finish up, while I was writing this, I actually watched the DVD of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto tour (which I had to get on Amazon because bloody HMV didn’t bloody well have it). Chris Martin said something that I thought was really cool, and has a relevant message for brands, which you can see here (warning, Chris Martin has a bit of a potty mouth).

Coldplay were still as excited that people were coming to listen to their music as they were at the start, despite their phenomenal success. They understood that the experience was everything and they understood that it was all on them to provide it. If the energy went, the experience went. Having been at the Emirates stadium to see their tour, they provided an experience I will never forget. Coldplay will be with me forever. This is what a brand should be. A brand should be as excited about consumers coming into their space as it was when the very first customers were coming through the door, if they aren’t then it is no longer willing or able to give everything to provide consumers with a memorable experience. HMV didn’t hold it’s energy, the energy had gone. It wasn’t brave enough to make a change and provide the experience that consumers deserve. Consumers work hard to earn trust, loyalty and their money. So should retailers.

I use HMV as the example here because I have shopped there, and experienced the brand myself, but really I could be talking about a number of brands, Jessops, Blockbuster or Comet being recent high profile closures.

p.s. here is the stuff Fitch wrote on this, called The Joy of Shopping. It also has their case study on Asian Paints


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