RIP HMV: Not a eulogy

Plenty of people have been sharing their memories of HMV on Twitter following the news the troubled music retailer is set to call in the administrators, so here’s one of my own, albeit more recent than most.

About six months ago, I nipped into London Trocadero branch on the off-chance of finding the fourth series of a well-known American drama on DVD, as well as to see if I could find a couple of other DVDs I was considering buying for presents.

After much searching, and on the verge of giving up, I asked a shop assistant if they had the fourth season of Dexter. “Never heard of it, mate,” came the reply. Did they know where it might be found? “Not sure, sorry.” Was there any possibility of ordering it in or that it may arrive in the next few days. “Doubt it.” It was a similar story with the other items on the list.

Then there was a similar experience this Christmas, when I may the last-minute decision to add a DVD into a Christmas present. The store was packed, but the DVD was nowhere to be found. Both quite frustrating.

Whether my story was a common occurrence or just bad luck, I’ve no idea. It does hint at a reason why HMV have been so troubled. If the staff seem indifferent to their products or to helping customers – and it’s virtually impossible to find what you’re looking for, it’s no wonder people are turning to the easy-to-navigate Amazon.

Amazon, supermarkets and the digital world in general will naturally be blamed, but equally the company itself can take plenty of blame for the long-standing debts it finds itself saddled with. The over-expansion over the late nineties and early noughties, combined with somewhat questionable acquisitions such as Fopp and Ottakar’s, played as much of a part as Amazon’s growth.

HMV never did quite sort out the online side of its business either, with the browsing experience often as frustrating as trying to find an item in the store itself. That’s hardly Amazon or Sainsbury’s fault if a major retailer can’t get one of the more basic requirements right and was too late to realise the need to enter a major market.

But while the nostalgia for HMV is perhaps a little disingenuous – If you really love a shop that much, try to step foot in in more than one a year – it’s certainly not misplaced. As a teenager, HMV always had that perfect balance between the mainstream pop and the more niche (if not obscure) music, while their foreign film collection was a joy for a cinema obsessive from Devon. Their staff were always passionate, friendly and only too willing to help, which is what makes their demise even sadder at the missed opportunities.

Brands can’t live on nostalgia alone though, and as journalist Dave Lee and Newsbeat reporter Greg Cochrane have noted, hardly anybody under the age of 26 seems particularly bothered about the retailer’s demise.

With over 4,000 jobs at risk, there should be no pleasure to be taken for gloating and saying I told you so or using it to champion the brilliance of the digital age. The issues, as I’ve touched on early, weren’t solely down to the likes of Amazon, while it’s no fun to see another set of high street shops go empty. And for those who still have resisted Amazon and the internet’s charms (and, yes, such people do exist), it leaves a difficult hole to replace.

Still, as Robert Peston writes, it’s probably best the “zombie” company was put out of its misery, given it had been flatlining for two years. You can even make an argument it should have done earlier. And who knows, I’m no retail expert, but perhaps a new company with a much more sensible approach to online/offline might even arise and make HMV nostalgia just that – a thing of the past.

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