We talk to HMV?s tech and books product manager, Ricky Gordon

New kid in town

How much interest has your trial laptop department attracted so far?
It’s still early days and too soon to say – I always feel you really need the best part of six months to a year to truly understand what the opportunities and any issues might be. However, we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.

How many more will you be looking to roll out, and where?
We can’t really say until we’ve had the opportunity to fully digest and assess the impact of the trial. But if it goes well, as we hope, then, obviously, we will look to extend it to key stores that enjoy a high technology profile.

How large a part of your business could this become, if successful?
I think it could potentially become an interesting element within our overall technology business. But, again, it really is too early to give any strong indications right now. All I can say is that we have been gradually diversifying and extending our product mix away from the more traditional areas of pre-recorded content, though without compromising its integrity. Within this trend it’s possible to see technology products playing an
increasingly important role.

Why did HMV decide to move into the PC area?
On the one hand, demand for our traditional core products of music and film, is changing – particularly in the way that people consume it. We’re doing our best to be a part of this change, and to respond to the needs of
our customers, but this also means looking at new product areas that are still part of entertainment and popular culture, and changing our mix a little. Technology products definitely fall into this category for us. We’ve also been encouraged by our success to date with technology-related products – for example, we’re one of the leading retailers of Apple accessory products, so, naturally, we’re keen to see what other products would appeal to HMV customers.

What will set you apart from other retailers going forward, and are you attracting a different kind of customer to your rivals?
We feel we’ve been carving out quite an individual role for ourselves within the retail environment over the last couple of years – partly by following our own brand-led strategy, but also as a result of some of our direct competitors falling by the wayside – which has kind of left us as the ‘last man standing’.

We feel we can be unique in developing a true 360 degree offer for our customers that is fully multichannel and draws on our stores, our online and digital platforms and on the live venues we now own. No other retailer occupies such a three dimensional position in the entertainment space, and it means we can appeal to an increasing number of customers and offer them a growing range of products. I think that’s our USP.

Ironically, if you go back a few decades, from the Twenties to the Sixties, we stocked not just recorded music, but technology products also. To begin with it was just gramophones and related items, but then we played a key role in popularising new electronic items such as radios and TVs, and we even got into white goods at one point. So you could argue everything’s going full circle, and in stocking iPods and netbooks, today’s modern day equivalents perhaps, we have gone back in order to move into the future.

What sort of approach do your staff have to the technology? Will they use lots of technical terms or
keep the descriptions simple?

Whilst we have many customers who visit our stores because they see us as a specialist, we do also get a lot of custom from what might be termed mainstream shoppers. So it’s important not to blind anyone with science – and to explain our products using everyday language that the ‘layman’ shopper can understand. There’s a huge potential audience out there of casual purchasers, especially for gifting periods, and we’re well placed to tap into this.

Do you see HMV becoming a more holistic technology and media retailer in the future?
I can see us becoming a more ‘holistic’ retailer, covering everything from live concert and ticketing to downloads and artist merchandising. Technology and media products also play a role in this.

PCs, especially netbooks, are managing to keep their head above the water in a time of economic strife. What do you attribute this to?
I think people are cutting back spending on superficial or luxury items that they don’t really need, and, along with essentials and basics, are instead focusing their needs on items that add value to their lives. Netbooks and technology products would appear to fall into this category.

Would you say the growth of netbooks is specifically down to the price or is it indicative of a wider portion of the population wanting to get online and engage with new technology?
Price can never be dismissed as a factor, but there’s clearly more than that going on here. I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that a growing number of consumers do want to engage with new media and technologies, which often cut across their domestic, social and work lives, and to invest in products that fulfil this aspiration.

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