Robert Peckham: 'Service-driven retail showrooms for online e-tailers are the future'

This month the Mac Technology founder looks at what High Street customers really want
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Robert Peckham talks about the demise of Jessops and the changing face of retail…

Following shock at the failure of both Jessops and HMV in January, I’m compelled to write about something not directly connected with the usual topic of this column, but certainly relevant to this publication – the changing face of retail.

Jessops was a company very close to my heart, as I trained as a photographer in the 1980s and worked in photo retail for many years before Apple Computers came along to change my career. Although the reputation of Jessops’ customer service quality was often patchy, it provided a unique array of technical photo services on today’s otherwise commoditised High Street, and employed some of the most dedicated and enthusiastic sales staff that I have ever encountered.

But the last few years have seen some extraordinary changes to the high street, following the demise of Woolworths, Comet, JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Cecil Jacobs (once the Jessops opposition) and countless smaller local retailers, leaving a conservative estimate (according to BCSC) of around 17 million square foot of available retail space sitting empty across the country.

Yes, read that figure again: 17 million square foot, which equates to over ten per cent of all the available retail space in the UK. When you then also add the shops currently occupied by charities, this figure jumps to a staggering 29 million square foot, or almost 20 percent of all retail space. Some towns have shopping streets that are half empty.

We can certainly blame the internet, but where IS the solution here? Well I certainly subscribe to the belief that service-driven retail showrooms for online e-tailers are the future. Retail customers state it’s the personal service and advice they are seeking when they visit the High Street, so why don’t companies that usually hide behind faceless internet sites start using local retail premises as the way forward in reaching out to their clients? These shops would carry no stock; buyers will visit to ask advice of the sales staff prior to purchase, using screen-based technology – even 3D images – to show and demonstrate the products. The customers then use these same terminals to place their orders at the store, collecting them from the same place the next day, or having them delivered to their homes.

I can’t wait to see which major corporation is the first to go with this new concept...

Robert Peckham is a 20-year veteran of the Apple reseller channel in the UK, and has managed many major Apple resellers. He founded the Mac Technology Association and was a director of the Technology Channels Association until their merger with CompTIA. He now runs MacTechnology, a consultancy for the Apple reseller channel which includes the Mac Tech Team support service.
robertpeckham@mac.com

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