HMV shares tumble - the fall of another high street giant?

HMV said in a statement today it still has very strong relationships with its suppliers, despite the blow to them of potentially not getting an insurance pay-out if HMV is unable to pay them. HMV insisted: "Whilst this has resulted in the reduction in the availability of credit insurance to certain of the company's suppliers, our business remains a core channel to market for them."

But it's a loud warning about the health of HMV. It is retracing all the same steps Woolworths and Zavvi were forced to tread not so long ago, on their fateful path to bankruptcy. The similarity in product offerings between HMV, Woolworths and Zavvi won't be much consolation to worried execs and investors: all made music, books, DVDs and games a staple (though Woolworths obviously had numerous additional lines).

All, it seems, have been or are being defeated by the rapid currents of the likes of Play.com and Amazon flooding the market, undercutting them on price and being more convenient for busy customers. Supermarkets have also swept in as a challenger, with their £5-a-CD offers splashed across stores and TV ads. Oh, and then there's that little matter of iTunes, run by Apple, now the world's second biggest company by market capitalisation.

But what can the 90-year-old HMV do? It's tried selling online. It's hooked up with the likes of Orange Mobile for brand partnerships and spun out artist merchandising through licensed products. It owns 13 music venues across the UK. It can't be accused of not trying to diversify its business model. And it's given games increasing weight in stores to try to buy in to a market it perhaps stands a better chance at holding on to than music.

That said, HMV is still lumbered with a whopping 280 stores around the UK. Which instantly yanks up the prices of any products it sells. Utility bills, premises rental, in-store staff, business rates, store signage and decoration - these are all costs a purely online business gets to shrug off. (Yes, when you're as big as Amazon, you obviously need to rent premises - but you still don't need anything like the 280 stores' worth of area.)

Perhaps, as a commentator on Radio 4's Today programme suggested this morning, the trouble is that HMV stores are just a bit boring. If you're an on-premises business up against rapacious online competitors, who will almost certainly always beat you on price, you need some seriously steely USPs to attract customers away from the warmth and convenience of their homes and into your shop.

Staff filled with passion and knowledge; an exciting, more 'destination' shop brimming with innovative look-sees and even events; attention-grabbing visual merchandising; and above all customer service that goes above and beyond the call of duty - all are USPs on-premises retailers fighting online rivals should consider. You can find more ideas like that in our feature on 37 ways to beat your competitors.

Of course, this is not to say HMV isn't trying to fill its shops with all those things. As @bobalus told us on Twitter this morning: "I love HMV. The Wimbledon shop is great. Good sale reductions, friendly staff and the cinema upstairs is a massive bonus!"

But we'd like to think there are still ways HMV can differentiate and excel past online rivals, if for nothing else than to keep the music/DVDs/gaming shopping experience diverse - and because we can't help but feel for a long-standing British retail staple that seems to be falling on the basis that it can't keep up with online's ferocious race-to-the-bottom price wars.

Do you have sympathy for a high-street business suddenly weakened by an army of new online competitors, or should it have updated its business model long ago to keep up? What would you do if you were HMV's CEO?

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