The last few months seem to have been a tipping point in retail, with major casualties adding to the loss of jobs and the closure of hundreds more high street  shops.

The last few months seem to have been a tipping point in retail, with major casualties adding to the loss of jobs and the closure of hundreds more high street  shops.

Have we arrived at that point, predicted by many, when the market catches up with the reality that we are over-shopped in an online world?

But sad as the demise of Comet, Blockbuster and Jessops were, it was interesting that the outpouring of sentimentality was reserved solely for HMV when it looked as if the 92-year-old brand might disappear.

Maybe it’s a case of ‘you never know what you have till it’s gone’, but it was incredible how HMV reported its best weekend for years following its administration.

Where had those customers been all that time if they suddenly rediscovered the joy of HMV? I have to confess, I was one of those shoppers who spent a fair bit of money there that weekend, and not because of the undoubted stock clearance bargains but more through sentimentality and a desire to ‘do my bit’.

I feel like I’ve probably been doing that on HMV’s behalf over quite a few years but had come to realise that I was a shrinking demographic when I was being driven to find the proper music at the back of the store beyond the games, DVDs and headphones.

It seems though that we might still be able to shop at a physical HMV even after the present round of store closures. Hopefully a smaller portfolio can survive on more than sentimentality.

I was struck by a comment made by Geoff Travis, founder of specialist music retailer Rough Trade, in the week of HMV’s woes. Revealing Rough Trade was to open more stores, he said: “I believe in a tactile relationship with a musical product. That means physical music.” He believes having depth of product, live music and coffee shops makes his stores a real destination.

Whichever way the high street shake-out ends, perhaps the deciding factors for survival will be specialisation and authority, not sentimentality. Just ask Sir Richard Branson, who jettisoned his Virgin music business, the foundation of his empire, way back in 2007.

  • Ian McGarrigle, Director, World Retail Congress