As we start feeling a little bit of optimism about how 2013 could take us, last week’s announcement of the fall into administration of the high street camera seller Jessops was a bit of a shock to the system.They have been around since the 1930s so, unsurprisingly, have become a very familiar sight on our high streets. Although, as has been the case with many long-standing high street names, that does not make them immune from the retail world’s economic woes. In keeping with a shop of that era, they were, I’m told by camera-fiend friends, not only an ideal place to buy cameras and accessories but, equally important, a guaranteed source of quality information on their products and photography in general. It seems to me that this is another example of a company that lost the battle to remain profitable in a very unfair war. These guys paid for the internet’s showroom. People visit stores like Jessops to look, hold and try products, then go home and save 20 quid by buying online. In effect, that 20 quid was Jessops’ rent, which clearly it is now unable to pay. We have the British high street brought to you by such names as Amazon, Dell and Net-a-Porter. We keep hearing the high street has to evolve to compete. Well, something has to happen, otherwise high street shopping will become rarer than a trustworthy banker. Even before Jessops went into administration the writing was on the wall for some parts of the high street got bigger and bolder. The BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for December 2012 showed 1.5 per cent growth in total UK retail sales during the month with like-for-like growth at 0.3 per cent. At the same time, internet sales put their best performance of the year with year-on-year growth of 17.8 per cent. The internet is praying on the high street. Not only is it stealing its customers its hijacking its trusted brands. Just look at Woolworths. The company couldn’t compete with its online rivals until all it was left with was its historic name and reputation. Before long a rival company bought the website address to begin trading on the internet marketplace under Woolworths’ name, catching the eye of the consumer who was attracted by a brand they have used for years. With the trust and reputation built up during nearly a century of business, it would not surprise me if the Jessops name suddenly appeared online selling cheap camera gear. You do have to wonder how long the model of selling cheap stuff while somebody else foots the bill for the marketing will last. It’s in the human condition to touch, feel, press and fiddle with things. We also like to get items straight away rather than four days later by courier. Just ask the committed techies who queue for days outside the Apple store to get the latest iPad. Could it be that soon we might see websites forced to move onto the high street? After all, we all know what happens to parasites when they’ve killed their host. Charlie Mullins is founder and CEO of Pimlico Plumbers.
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