I had a rather disturbing dream last night. I dreamt that I had become massively fat. Now before you all cruelly think "you are already", I am not talking about my normal state of borderline obesity, but a future scenario in which I had achieved truly gargantuan proportions. So much so that at one point I squeezed myself into a lift, and the sign on the wall read - "Maximum Load 8 Persons - or 500kg - or Jason Ayres".
Anyway thankfully I awoke to find that I was merely my usual cuddly self. Perhaps it was a subconcious warning from my brain of the consequences of what might happen if I keep up my excessive late night crisp consumption. Who knows?
Anyway, Lynda and Duncan came round this morning for coffee around the kitchen table. How very civilised I am becoming. Fortunately Duncan is a man after my own heart and I was most pleased to see that I am not the only person who eats their biscuit in one go. As usual we were able to relate a few food related anecdotes, which included me showing off my pet, Andrew James, the meat slicer, then we moved on to discussing possible blog topics. After much consideration I have settled upon the subject of shopping.
Before you all groan, this will be a new angle on an old theme. It will not be a lot of dewy-eyed reminiscing about the time that Mini Cheddars were on Buy One Get TWO free in Somerfield, or a lot of complaining about the evils of Tesco destroying the town centre. I tried that one before you may remember, on facebook, with my Save Bicester Town Centre page and it just got filled full of ads. No, today I am pondering the future of retail, particularly in how the high street will measure up against the internet in the future.
My target today is some of our long establised national chains. The likes of Argos, WHSmith, and other names that have been with us all our lives. Will they be around forever? Well I wonder. There was a time when who could imagine a world without Woolworths? But we all know what happened to them.
When the internet first burst on to the scene some 15 years ago now, with internet shopping soon following, many confidently predicted the end for retail as we know it. Who would go into HMV or Waterstones and buy something that could be bought for half the price on Amazon? Very true - who indeed? But those chains are still with us. I have a theory as to why - and also a theory as to why they won't be much longer.
It's because that first great internet wave was eagerly adopted by "Generation X" and younger people very quickly. I was 25 in 1995 when I got the internet. But they did not capture the cash rich "grey market" so quickly. I can remember a number of comments from more senior relatives who didn't get this "new-fangled t' internet", I don't need to say more, I think Peter Kay did a whole routine about it.
Retailers fought back against the likes of Amazon and Play.com by developing their own competetively priced websites, whilst keeping prices in their shops artificially high. How they must have laughed at the poor old sods, slow to adapt to the new technology as they paid £34.99 in the shop for something freely available on their own website for £19.99 and for even less at Amazon.
But that market is shrinking. My mother is now using a Kindle and buying her books and DVD's on Amazon, and my dad has been using the internet for some time. They are both in their 70s and by no means atypical, so the theory that the older generation doesn't get the internet no longer holds up. There are still plenty of people around who aren't so tech savvy but the pool is shrinking every day.
The price discrepancies are still there though. Here's a few examples. I wanted to buy a little accessory for the PS3 this week and went into Argos in Bicester to see if they had it. They did - and it was £29.99. I then came home and looked on Amazon. It was £11.70. How can Argos justify such a high price? I guess up until now they have figured that well, there must be some idiot who will buy it. Maybe there is, but one day there won't be.
Another example. I used those 9V batteries for my karaoke mics. You know the ones you used to dare people to put on their tongue at school. Anyway these are about £3.99 for one in the shops. On eBay I buy them in boxes of 10 for £7.
Ink Cartridges - how anyone can let themselves be ripped off by WHSmith and PC World for these is beyond me.
It does seem that anything electronic has the greatest savings online.
The last credit crunch saw many retailers go to the wall. It looks as if we may be heading for another, 3 years later. I would not be at all surprised to see another culling of dinosaurs on the high street this winter. The likes of Argos will probably survive - they sell enough different stuff to get by, but some of the more specialist retailers look very vulnerable.
If it's not the internet that will kill them it will be the Supermarkets. So here I present to you my endangered species list of overpriced retail chains from a variety of different sectors. Don't buy shares in these if you know what's good for you.
2) Clinton Cards
4) JJB Sports
If I was going to invest any money in a retailer - which I am not - then I would invest it in Majestic Wine - a company I highly admire. They sell a fantastic range of wine, are competitively priced compared to the supermarkets, have no major internet opposition, and are run by specialist people who know what they are talking about. An example of how to do it right.
If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.
Jason x x