PCR asks its Retail Advisory Panel what they think about the latest issue facing the technology retail sector

Does the relaunch of Jessops signify hope for High Street retail?

Peter Jones has resurrected Jessops, Hilco has come to HMV’s rescue and even Blockbuster has found a buyer. Is the retail mood changing or is it an illusion?

In our own business we are seeing an upturn in retail with both sales and margins increasing against last year. I think that whilst people are price sensitive and do a lot of shopping online, you can’t get better advice than speaking to an independent and many customers still want to touch and feel products before buying. Add in good levels of service and you’re on to a winner.

I think it’s significant that the revamped Jessops stores will include features such as play tables for customers who want to touch the cameras, a ‘photography academy’ and a click and collect service for online buyers. We’ve got very similar things planned for this year.

If retailers concentrate on service, advice and making a real difference to the experience then price becomes less of a factor.

On a side note, our High Streets are littered with empty shops, and ‘pound’ shops and I think that landlords need to look at this and start to attract new business ventures and try to support existing businesses with rent incentives. The practice of keeping property empty whilst waiting a full recovery is in fact damaging that recovery in my opinion.

The re-launch of Jessops is a much-needed force in halting the destruction of our High Streets over these last few years.

Large retailers such as Jessops have lacked structure, and the ability to be able to quickly diversify and change direction towards engaging the consumer head on.

Retailers can no longer sit back and wait for footfall to come through their doors.

The consumer needs an attraction coupled with a varied and dynamic shopping experience backed up with the biggest weapon in a retailer’s arsenal – solid customer service.

I can only hope lessons have been learned from Jessops’ closure back in January and that it is a prominent force on all of our High Streets for years to come.

That said it won’t be able to survive on cameras alone as 13MP cameras are fast becoming standard in mobile phones.

I think it’s a little premature to conclude the effects of the ‘rescuing’ of these High Street names, but one thing is for sure – somebody has got a good deal!

I’m sure loss-making stores have been dispensed with and expensive leases renegotiated. I hope creditors haven’t been too affected (but I doubt that). It seems many of these retail companies that go into administration or liquidation seem to owe HMRC tens of millions of pounds, which again is written off. This affects the general public, but is often forgotten.

Therefore, in reality, the only ‘winners’ are the investors in these businesses who have managed to strip away the good elements and who, in turn, will maximise their return. Does that signify hope for the High Street? Possibly, as focus now returns to creating profitable and sustainable businesses – which remain on the High Street for years to come.

While Jessops’ reappearance certainly does give hope to the High Street, I think that the problem lies deeper than a cash injection.

Some retailers are being very successful at creating attractive propositions – to keep customers coming through their doors – but the problem goes beyond just retailers.

Councils have to understand that the High Street’s fate is also down to them.

Town centres must be well maintained and generally be a ‘nice’ environment to shop in, if we are going to see people support them.

Certain put-offs, such as unfair parking enforcement and poorly maintained empty retail space, create an atmosphere that sees our shoppers head to out-of-town retail parks or even online in preference to local retailers.

In the seventies we saw our railway links close and now in hindsight we are regretting that.

Could it be that in future years we will reminisce about walking into town to pick up some shopping?

We should see our High Streets as hubs of the community, and if we can all support the community, we will hopefully see an end to the drastic loss of more household-name stores (such as Jessops/HMV/ Blockbuster) in years to come.

Peter Jones is no mug and I am sure his business plan for Jessops is long on etail and short on bricks and mortar.

In the old days 300 stores were needed for national coverage but now, with the maturing of internet trading, 60 well-located stores are more than enough for brand building, expert advice and click and collect pickup points.

Interestingly, I see the future of indies in our channel being through alliances with etailers, vendors and service providers that need local points of presence for everything from click and collect points through to local installation and support.

At Brigantia we are on the lookout to support business that complement what our members do best, which is to look after end users at a local level.

Etailers, vendors and service providers will, I believe, provide more than enough business to keep the indie sector going over the coming years as being local they can offer highly cost effective services. I say bring it on guys and the best of luck to Peter Jones and other independent entrepreneurs that revive and breathe new life into great old brands like Jessops, HMV and the like.

There is definitely hope for the High Street – there are many High Street retailers doing well that’s testament to that.

It’s all about the business model and the ability of these companies to adapt to the changing face of retail.

A High Street retailer cannot just be that, they must be a multi-channel retailer that can differentiate themselves from the price fighters that operate only on the web.

A relaunch for Jessops, Blockbuster et al isn’t enough, they must reincarnate themselves and evolve with the changing marketplace.

Their failure to do so in the first place sees them where they are now.

Is there hope? Of course there is and always will be for any business that understands the new landscape of retailing.

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