As the country reels from the riots that swept England’s cities last month, the PC and electrical retail sector in particular has had a stark warning over the risks associated with its business model – and there are fears the violence has proven the final straw for many struggling High Street dealers.
While the looting and general violence affected all types of businesses, expensive laptops, mobile phones, and other electrical products were particularly sought by looters.
Entertainment and electrical retailer HMV had a number of its stores raided, but warns greater security measures could cause further harm to the High Street. “The next alternative is to consider installing 'solid' shutters, but, aside from the cost, these would not enable customers to see window displays when stores are shut - and certainly wouldn't add to the appeal of high streets around the country, which are already in retreat following the ravages of the supermarkets.”
Independents will often have customer’s laptops in for repair as well as new stock. Paul Grimshaw from Totally Techy in Uxbridge was told to close by his landlord during the height of the rioting, and moved 45 computers off site to a secure office.
“We don't keep much in the way of stock, but it made us re-look at our policies with regards to customer laptops which was our focus – replacing stock isn't an issue but getting massive bad publicity (although no fault of ours) would have been dire,” he told us.
Brigantia, which represents hundreds of these types of businesses across the UK, spoke out on the devastating effect this sort of violence has on smaller dealers: “This kind of social unrest really needs to be nipped in the bud as the impact upon smaller businesses in the locality can be devastating,” said founder Iain Shaw.
“Even when suitably insured, the disruption to everyday trading can become a costly affair. And with large amounts of high value stock such as laptops and tablets on display – the type of product seemingly high on the looters shopping list – PC and technology retailers are particularly at risk. This is another thing the average independent PC retailer now has to worry about now.”
CompTIA’s Adam Harris – who formally ran an independent PC business – claims the situation, has now caused a state of unease in the sector, which already has a lot on its plate. “A lot of retailers uneasy and unsure about carrying stock. The latest riots may be the nail in the coffin for some independents that have been struggling to keep up with the big chains anyway, the cost to recover from something like this could send a company under.”
The British Retail Consortium estimates the retail sector spends £210 million a year on crime prevention – but that the state cracks down on these sorts of crimes in order to prevent more devastating riots. “Sadly the priorities of the police and the justice systems don’t tend, or haven’t previously, to regard retail crime as a very high priority. It’s been a concern to us for some considerable time.
We strongly feel that on previous occasions where shops have had their frontages smashed or have been invaded, those responsible have not been punished particularly There needs to be appropriate punishment for those involved in order to deter future violent incidents of this nature.”