Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks ?

Hot off the press from last week’s Retail Week conference, “HMV will still have a portfolio of hundreds of stores on the high street in five years, HMV CEO Simon Fox told delegates”

And so they should.

But in my opinion, some careful thought is needed to position the store chain alongside HMV’s evolving digital persona.  HMVDigital, launched last July, is their take on iTunes. As a digital destination for downloading music it seems to stand on its own two feet. Product scope is a little limited in that it’s music only (no videos), but I can only assume that they have a roadmap to open up new product categories over time.

They are clearly set on taking on iTunes at their own game, a fact that is evident from the site’s logo when you link to it from HMV.com – the old familiar, faithful HMV hound listening to a gramophone, sat right in the middle of a now familiar iPod control wheel.  An interesting choice.

It would be a shame if all HMV did here was attempt to mimic iTunes, as they have one ace up their sleeve that iTunes can’t (yet) mimic; a nationwide chain of high street stores staffed with music loving store colleagues. Although the products may become digital, I believe that there is a place for human interaction that multichannel retailers such as HMV can capitalise on. And interestingly, from the tone of his Retail Week address, Fox believes this too.

Multichannel retailers who can operate effectively on line have a huge opportunity with their physical stores to position their staff as knowledgeable experts. People who are passionate about their products and can advise consumers on a personal, one to one basis. They have an opportunity to transform their stores into experiential, customer centric destinations where consumers go for advice, guidance and engagement. Stores with a minimum of product (as most of the product is digital) that bring the brand experience to life.

There is an increasing trend for digitisation of product, consumer touch-points and now even services taking place across the retail landscape, one that I will come back to in the future. This is a trend which is beginning to influence bricks and mortar stores, though I believe some much more fundamental shifts are on the way. I believe that we will see a change in approach to physical store design over the next few years, and those retailers who can position their store colleagues as trusted advisors on the side of the consumer will be the true multichannel winners.

Embracing this isn’t easy, as Blockbusterswill tell you. Blending the digital experience into physical stores is not something that anyone particularly has a magic formula for yet. It’s an area where we are still looking for emerging best practice, but one thing is becoming increasingly obvious.  Customer centricity is key. Forrester Analyst Brian Walker has recently published the first in a series of articles about what we are calling Agile Commerce; a move from a channel centric retail model to a customer centric one, and we will be publishing more in this space over the coming months.

I will be watching this space with great interest, and I wish Mr Fox and HMV the best of luck, because a UK high street with no music stores would be a poorer place.

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