R.I.P Woolworth’s?

Posted on January 16, 2009

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Throughout December something rather odd happened – even more odd than the usual rush for obscure cosmetic produce and gift cards and that the fact that people inexplicably start eating sprouts put together. For around five weeks the entire country seemed to be overrun by the rose-tinted mist of nostalgia. People were crying in the streets and remembering the good times to help them through the bad, all the while wondering how life could possibly go on. Well, not quite, but that’s the way it was heading. I am of course talking about the abrupt closure of Woolworths, and to be honest, given the public’s reaction you would be forgiven for thinking that the only shop that sold oxygen was closing its doors and it would be first come first served for the remaining air.

As local people up and down the land registered their disbelief to the television news cameras, Woolworths began to close its stores and whilst some mourned the passing of the venerable, ninety nine year old company, the rest of us were left wondering how exactly they had managed to stave off collapse for quite so long. I mean come on, what exactly was their unique selling point? Pick and mix? Hardly the foundations of a sturdy business, especially when you consider that everything that Woolworth’s sold could be found cheaper in the supermarkets or more focused retail outlets which knew what their gap in the market was, unlike Woolies, which always seemed to be spreading itself a bit thin. As soon as the music singles market imploded Woolworth’s was in danger; their relatively small range of albums, DVDs and videogames lacked variety and was fairly easily out priced by dedicated stores. They sold a lot of toys, but most shopping for kids is done over the festive period, and more and more parents than ever turned to the internet this year instead of venturing outside and facing the electric shock that invariably came from touching the banister at any branch of Woolies.

Interestingly though, whilst everyone was morning the loss of their favourite random crap emporium, nobody seemed all that bothered about all the jobs that were now being made redundant, instead concerning themselves with buying the shop fittings and fixtures on the day of closing, leading to sights in-store resembling a post-apocalyptic survival struggle as people scrambled over each other to fill bin bags full of whatever they could lay their hands on.

The sudden demise of Woolworth’s has also meant that multi-media outlet Zavvi is slowly but surely selling all of its stock and closing its doors across the nation, and that Richard Branson has the right to look even more like a smug git for having the foresight to pull out of the then Virgin Megastore chain before the whole thing collapsed around his ears. Zavvi shared product distribution links with the Woolworth’s company and in reality losing them is an even bigger blow to the high street than Woolworth’s.

Zavvi was the only shop that could really rival HMV as being a stockist of all media and would often provide a better price or offer than the dog with the gramophone. Supermarkets often give an alternative and cheaper price on new releases and chart items but their range of stock simply could not rival that of HMV and Zavvi. Now with their rivals out of the way, nothing is really stopping HMV raising the prices of a lot of their products without fear of being undercut by anyone on the high street. A high street without variety and choice is a dangerous and expensive place for the consumer, and this is just one incident within the retail sector, it’s happening all over. What this means in the broad sense is yet to be seen, and probably won’t be seen for a year or two yet. One thing is for certain though, we are all going to have to be either more careful with our spending or hunt high and low for the cheapest price. It’s that or end up poorer than most students already are.

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