Batchelor visits…HMV

Scores: 90% What’s good: Strong brand, attractive and logically designed stores What’s bad: Slapdash ticketing.

The Company

Growing up in the Nineties should have meant that by now, I would have had a large and now unusable cassette tape collection of ‘popular hits’ from my childhood. However that is not the case. As a child I was not exposed to much modern music. Fed on a diet of Dad’s Army and The Antiques Roadshow, my early years could very easily have formed the basis of a charming, but not terribly exhilarating black and white B-Movie. The soundtrack to that movie would have been Glenn Miller or someone like that because that was the type of music I listened to. On a gramophone. With a large horn.

I know this is supposed to be a review of HMV in Winchester and not some affectionate The Way We Were look back, but what I am saying is relevant. How was the sound of chattanooga choo choo played through the horn you’re all asking? Well, gather around and I’ll tell you. The vinyl record of chattanooga was placed on the turntable and, through the use of metal needles, the music somehow came out of the large horn mounted above.  

And the maker of those needles? His Master’s Voice. HMV.

Naturally, His Master’s Voice wasn’t the only maker but, with their distinctive branding of Nipper the dog listening to a gramophone, the boxes those needles came in were visually fantastic for a small child.

Fast forward ninety or so years and HMV has changed beyond recognition since those needle and vinyl record making days. Part of the HMV Group – which, along with HMV, owns Waterstone’s, Zawi, and Fopp – HMV now has well over 300 stores in the UK, with operations in the USA, Canada and Hong Kong. However, despite owning two of the High Street’s biggest names (HMV and Waterstone’s), the group is facing tough times with increased competition from the internet and falling record sales. Their Winchester branch, sitting in a prominent location on the High Street, has the city’s music and entertainment market to themselves as nearby Game presents competition just for the gaming market, and MVC, in the Brooks Centre, closed its doors in 2006 and has since lain derelict. 

Outside – 12/20

I appreciate that it is difficult to make a store like HMV look tempting to go into because of the nature of its business – customers go there for a purpose and for nothing else. Elaborate and artistic window displays are hard to achieve; by that I mean that manikins cannot be on display because it is very hard to wear CDs – but don’t trust me, I haven’t tried. However, through good signage and brand logos, HMV’s stores normally look the business, even with huge Sale signs in the windows. Despite this, the signs had worked, for the store was packed.

Inside – 18/20

Winchester’s branch is a great example of an HMV store. Yes, HMV Southampton is ultra-modern by sporting a bank of Apple Macs for customer’s uses, and yes, Gunwharf Quay’s store even has a super-fast escalator meaning that you can purchase Justin Timberland’s latest LP in record-quick time, but Winchester’s store is a model of simplicity. As soon as I entered the store the latest hits and offers were clearly signposted. And I especially liked the way the store designers placed computer games and television DVDs on either wall with music in the middle – it was unified and made perfect sense. There was even a record player at the back of the shop to play vinyl records on which I most approved of. Sadly, I couldn’t find a record by Adele on a 78 vinyl to listen to. The only thing that annoyed me, however, was HMV’s sloppy ticketing. On one occasion I picked up a CD by a chap called N-dubz with a sticker price of £7.99. However, the same CD behind it was two pounds cheaper. I have experienced this in other branches, not just in Winchester, which presents a rather casual and slapdash attitude to the customer.

Customer service – 20/20    

To test the store’s customer service I asked for what I thought to be a tricky question, namely: ‘Could you direct me to The Avengers please?’. Of course, being impartial, I did not expect a good or a bad response, but I did not expect the answer I got. ‘Yes, is that The Avengers soundtrack or the television series on DVD?’ Impressed I answered ‘The TV series, please.’ Unfortunately they didn’t have it in stock, but I was assured that it could be ordered and be with me within a week. What had initially started as a question and a scenario in which I had no intention to buy, I came away content and with The Avengers on order.

Did I buy anything? – 20/20

Apart from the aforementioned DVD, I also purchased a Playstation 3 game as a present for someone. I had already checked the price with Game (computer game specialists further up the High Street) and HMV was offering it for five pounds cheaper. Amazingly, HMV’s price was the same as Amazon’s.

The Interweb – 20/20 is an attractive and easy to use website with a good search facility, and useful customer ratings and reviews sections. But that is not all. Launched two years ago, HMV Digital is very similar to  Amazon’s MP3 download store, but iTunes and Napster were obviously HMV’s intended competitors for the site features all these sites’ now familiar features. But why does score 20 out of 20? It just does the job, simply and efficiently.

Overall – 90/100  

Like its sister company, Waterstone’s, HMV is a familiar sight on our high streets. It has got to this position by giving what its customers wants, in attractive stores at competitive prices, and ensuring it is the destination of choice for customers. However, it is that very point that lets HMV down slightly. Unlike Waterstone’s, HMV has never tempted me away from my trudge up Winchester High Street. But like Waterstone’s I go to HMV because I need to, not because I want to. HMV may do its job very well, but it has a duty to because few high streets have a store that rivals it.

Next Week: C&H Fabrics, Winchester

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