R.I.P. Jessops – The Changing High Street
The literally overnight demise of the camera chain Jessops is just one more sign that the traditional High Street has changed beyond all recognition!
The change over from buying from familiar shops to the increasing use of the internet is probably the main reason. You visit the specialist shop to get your hands on a product aided as often as not by the sales staff, and then if the price isn’t right, you shop online. Add the protracted recession coupled with the extortionate cost of fuel, and the rush to buy online becomes inevitable and has accelerated to the point that major shops and chains can often cease to trade overnight.
I have often been guilty myself (who hasn’t) of using the high street as a catalogue and then ordering from Amazon or similar, but in the case of specialist items, such as high-end cameras, wherever possible you can’t beat knowledgable specialist advice and therefore shops such as Jessops have performed an important function. Indeed, I remember driving from Birmingham to the original Jessops in Leicester to collect a new Canon FTB. That was very many years ago as the model number will tell you. It was the result of an insurance settlement after having my previous camera stolen from the locked boot of our car while on holiday on the Atlantic coast in France, Sable d’Olonne. The fact that a young French couple had suffered a similar loss on the same beach at the same time offered no comfort to me. And I have to say that even the new camera couldn’t replace the original camera that had been stolen (again someone must have been looking for a bargain and preferred not to use the high street).
But even before the recession forced the final capitulation of Jessops, there appeared to me to be a decline in specialist knowledge by the serving staff. What the management was willing to pay its assistants will have been a factor, but also the speed of change in camera technology left the average shop assistant struggling to keep up with the specialist knowledge and hands-on experience that would have been required. Online blogs and specialist websites able to carry out in depth reviews of products became essential reading prior to purchase for the potential customer, who had the advantage of being able to narrow his search to the one particular area that he was interested in. The shop assistant inevitably would be required to have detailed knowledge of a much wider area of photographic technology and would be unable to compete.
All of this is a far cry from the day when I placed an order for my very own first camera at Walwins in Gloucester, a Voigtlander Vito B and I still have it. I had previously used the family Brownie Box.
But in the end for certain items there really is no replacement for the ability to see and experience the use of a product and get the feel for an item yourself. You simply cannot buy blind for an item which is going to have to feel just right in use. And so we will all be the losers, not just the shop staff of Jessops who found themselves unemployed overnight.
High-end professionals will still be catered for through specialist providers, like Calumet, in the larger urban conurbations although even such providers will be unlikely to survive the recession without a degree of retrenchment. And anyway for such users there will always be the option of rent, try and buy! What we are witnessing is the demise of the personal service provided by a particular business model, the friendly specialist photographic dealer in the average hometown.
Inevitably there will have to be a return to something like the specialist shop. I suspect that we will have to travel further to benefit from what such shops are able to offer, and no doubt it will have to await the end of what may well be a triple dip recession and new methods of marketing before that day comes. But come it will have to. Amazon ‘Outlet’ shops or Ikea Photographic or travelling trade shows perhaps, or something similar! Fry’s Electronics in the States could be the model here, though Fry’s aren’t noted for their personal customer service, think Curry’s but not so attentive. But not every large town has a Fry’s, so inevitably it will be just that bit more difficult to get real value for money and the necessary hands on experience that the prospective customer wants. Add to that the gradual and, I believe, deliberate decline in wages being engineered in this country set against the increased wealth being created and enjoyed by the emerging Asian countries, and those illusory Internet bargains may become a thing of the past and we shall all be the poorer in more ways than one. So rest in peace Jessops and best wishes to all of the staff. You will be greatly missed by many more than you may have expected.
My treasured ‘Voigtlander Vito B’