Customer service on the high street

Empire Records girlsI’ve been asked quite a lot about customer service recently and in particular whether it played any part in HMV’s downfall. As someone who clearly doesn’t shop in HMV I can only go by other customer’s comments and certainly it was perceived that customer service was not high on their list of priorities.  To be fair they clearly had some good people and some who were not and certainly both FOPP and HMV staff regularly pointed people in the right direction when they were looking for titles only stocked by Avalanche.  

I think the more relevant question is when did good customer service start going unrewarded. Certainly when we moved to the Grassmarket the core of what we stood for was good, knowledgeable customer service and putting on interesting events. We looked to expand that in the new shop probably at just about the time some customers, used to information being free on the internet, started to see us more as an extension of google and saw little point in going to an in-store if it was going to be on YouTube later.

At the same time online sellers idea of good customer service was simply to deal with missing deliveries. There was no thought to actually promoting the music they were selling, an often time consuming but also rewarding part of selling music. They would leave that to others. The “rewarding” part not being financial it held little interest to them and the slippery slope of customers using shops as a showroom but buying online had begun.  

Surely though the record companies and labels would spot the difference in support they were getting from shops to online sellers. Well yes they did but then they started seeing the numbers the big marketplace sellers were doing and thought no more about how those numbers were being achieved. Reps would start to miss calls having to stay at home processing online orders and so shops too then started to miss out on the benefits a good rep can bring with regular visits. As has been well documented before the whole idea that high street shops would be rewarded with better deals to help with the massive overheads they faced compared to online sellers was quickly forgotten also.

I always bought any camera or video equipment from Jessops because I found their advice invaluable. I wasn’t concerned what price it was online because I was buying whatever it was because Jessops told me to and I trusted their judgement. It would have simply felt wrong to take all their advice and then see if I could save £20 buying elsewhere. I’m sure if enough people felt like that HMV would consider, should they survive, having a far stronger customer service ethic. And yes I know they were overpriced sometimes but Amazon were underpriced by an equal amount and we all now know why.

Record companies, labels and film companies (see link below) recognise even a shit HMV is far better at promoting their releases than Amazon (let’s leave Tesco for another time) and all reports are they will give them even more favourable terms in future. Moreover all those big marketplace sellers (mostly failed shops in another life) do absolutely fuck all to promote music of any kind never mind new music and yet are treated equally by many to independent high street shops. And then there are all those little marketplace sellers with record company accounts too not just on Amazon but also eBay. 

All concerned need to take a long look and decide if their continued support for those who contribute nothing to the promotion of music is worth the end of high street shops as we know them. Give all high street shops be they HMV or independents the right terms and the right tools and record companies, labels and bands might be surprised just what could be achieved.

2 Responses to “Customer service on the high street”

  • Paul:

    Good points.

    The problem for myself & many others is access to independents. Years ago, my town used to have two independents, a Music Zone, Woolworths and Virgin. The independents were the first to go, though one of them put up a good fight before succumbing to the obvious duel problems of showrooming vs preferential online pricing and illegal digital downloads.

    Now my town has none of these. I have to travel either to Manchester, Liverpool or Preston, which happens only a few times a year. It isn’t all bad as I order items from these stores via their website – the stores continue to benefit even if I’m not physically in the store.

    An added problem for me is that my musical tastes simply aren’t covered completely by one store. I can’t walk in any one store (even Amazon) and purchase a Wil Bolton CD on Time Released Sound Records, a Bersarin Quartett on Denovali Records and a Frightened Rabbit 10″. It’s impossible – I’m simply forced to shop around as a consumer. This can be both time-consuming and costly (with some places charging £3 and upwards to mail a single LP it can be the difference between sale and no-sale).

    You’re absolutely bang-on when it comes to customer service though. I’d love to be able to phone Avalanche and be told about records which I might like, go on the Avalanche website to listen to a personal snippets page and click [Add To Basket] if I like the sound of them.

    Rough Trade in London, Piccadilly in Manchester and Norman in Leeds (although the latter is clicks-and-mortar, its customer service is the best I’ve come across) are evidence that independents are thriving in 2013. They all offer a genuine alternative to the dullness of HMV, Tesco et al.

  • Vivian:

    I love music and it plays a big part in my life. I especially love hearing the up & coming Scottish bands. I have always believed it was enough to support these bands at gigs when possible, promote their music through fridnds & pay for their downloads/CD’s via any high street/online retailer. Who ever was most convenient/offered the best price/the most appealing special edition would get my custom. The above article brings together quite a few of my concerns on what I’m supporting when choosing where to buy my music,concerns which have been there for a while, but quickly pushed to the back of my head to save a few pounds or space on the shelf.

    After reading through the Avalanche Manifesto I decided to jump on a bus to the Grassmarket & pre-order my Frightened Rabbit CD from them, rather than order the signed copy from I would have loved the signed copy but some how it didn’t come close to knowing I was making a tiny contribution to my local record store, a record store which makes promoting local bands a priority. When I was in the shop I also bought some tickets to attend an in store gig next week, to see Admiral Fallow & Olympic Swimmers. I have been familiar with Admiral Fallow for a couple of years, but Olympic Swimmers is a new band to me. It promises to be an amazing night of musical talent, which would not have been available from any of my usual high street/online stockists.
    My new years resolution was to make more of an effort to experience bands who are flying under my radar and support Scottish artists. I have now realised how important it is to support my local independent record store.

    Today was my first visit to Avalanche I am ashamed to say. I know my funds for music are limited but every little counts. Even If I buy only 1 CD a month I want it to be from people who are as excited and enthusiastic about music as the bands I go to see. I want that company to be giving the bands the recognition they deserve and aiding them in their music career. That is why I will be buying my next music from Avalanche and in the months ahead they will mo doubt be able to help me fulfil my New Years Resolution by introducing me to new music.

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