Monday, 25 March 2013

Blockbuster, Jessops, HMV... but who's next? WHSmith, we're coming for you

Guest post by Alice Baker, Account Manager at Westgate Communications 

It was a tragic day and a clear sign of the times when a British institution like Blockbuster finally shut it’s doors. I’ll never forget the day my mum took me into the store to purchase Beauty and the Beast (a classic I might add) on VIDEO for my Birthday; something she had to pre-order because it wasn’t available elsewhere. Clearly, I’m showing my age, but the memory still makes a distinctive point - we needed Blockbuster in our lives. Disney is very important to a five year-old.

Fast forward twenty years and I enter that famous store again, this time for another classic: Reservoir Dogs. “Sorry, we don’t have it” the shop assistant replied. Angered by her indignation, her shrug, and by the fact there were 47 useless copies of Bridget Jones’ Diary strewn around the store, I realised Blockbuster had finally become disillusioned by what its customers wanted. It was also clear that I no longer needed the store; for Disney or Tarantino, it didn’t matter. Streaming became the way forward and quite honestly, I’ve never looked back.

A dissatisfied customer I may be, but the point that it makes is that in the last five years the consumer power of our UK high-streets has now shifted from retailer to customer. Blockbuster no longer had what I needed - availability of films, knowledgeable staff etc. - so I went elsewhere.  Understanding what your customer needs and what your USP is, is essential for maintaining customer loyalty. Adapting your retail channel to suit these needs is also vital because consumers appreciate retailers being considerate to their needs.

So who’s next to go? I’m hedging my bets - or should I say hopes - on WH Smith. Here is a store which epitomises all of the issues above. It’s expensive, it has no USP - does it sell books, sweet or arts and crafts materials? And the staff seem adamant on selling me a giant bar of Dairy Milk every time I purchase a lottery ticket. The staff are generally unfriendly and mostly unhelpful and their website seems to offer the same service too as its far from intuitive; so why oh why has it survived at the forefront of British retailing for so long?

As digital books sales with the likes of Amazon and Kobo continue to rise how much longer can WH look to hold on?