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How retail technology could save the record

Nick Booth
103908578 300x179 How retail technology could save the record

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Did you go to your local record shop on Record Store Day? It was a nationwide series of events aimed at saving the nation’s independent record shops. Come on, these are the keepers of the flame. If we don’t support them they’re gone and the world will belong to the likes of Simon Cowell. So did you go and buy something from your local record shop?

Nope, me neither. It’s only 500 yards from my house to Kingston’s Banquet Records, one of the last bastions of the music enthusiast. But I still didn’t bother. A single, guilt-tinged shopping trip won’t save them. They’ll have to save themselves, and their use of retail technology could be the key.

Mind you, it’s technology that’s killing them. A report on the Future of Retail by researcher Conlumino predicts that – if current trends continue – by 2020 practically all music and video (96 per cent) will be bought online.

Creative use of technology could at least get punters back into the shop – whether they actually buy anything is another matter. Shops could start with the easy stuff. Most shops could set up a free wi-fi account for next to nothing. That would get the mobile phone generation in the shop, even if it’s just to use Skype for free phone calls and surfing. Get creative with the password: change it every day according to whatever marketing theme you are currently pushing. At the Pie and Vinyl shop in Southsea, where they have an offer on at the moment, the password could be “FreePiewithEveryPurchase”.

Most shop owners don’t offer free wi-fi in-store (according to marketing agency Sponge) even though they have broadband. “Wi-fi is becoming an important part of the omni-channel service proposition,” says Dan Parker, Sponge’s CEO. If you were creative enough, you could make adverts that people would have to watch before they were allowed to hop on the free network.

Facebook offers another free and easy opportunity for marketing your record shop. It takes two minutes to set up a Facebook page and start talking to customers, advises Facebook’s marketing manager for SMBs Felicity McCarthy. You can encourage them to actually buy things through Facebook offers, where you create bar codes which can be traded in the shop for a discount.

The aforementioned Pie and Vinyl in Southsea has made an unusual technology investment in order to woo punters. After winning the Audio-Technica award for Britain’s best independent shop, owner Steve Roger Courtnell spent the £1000 winnings on cooking facilities. Now he gives away free pie and records to reward his loyal customers. “We have proved that records are alive and well,” says Courtnell. I hope he’s right, but surely if it was all about pie then what’s he going to do if Greggs starts selling CDs?

Think man! Don’t attack your opponent where they are strongest, says battle scarred former record shop manager Chris Owen, who ran independents in Aylesbury, Brighton and Worthing. All have gone under.  “You will never beat the big stores and the online retailer on price. Record shops need to focus where their opponent is weakest – on personnel,” says Owen. The enthusiasts in record shops provide the one thing online can’t, he argues.

Hang on, don’t online shops help you discover new music?

Absolutely not, says Simon Drake, MD of Naim Audio, “The recommendation algorithms set up by online stores are as clueless as the codgers who used to compile the Radio 1 playlist,” says Drake.

Like Rough Trade, Naim set up its own record label to try to find and encourage interesting new music makers. When people buy a record off the Naim label, they get a code to enable them to download a digital version of the song.

But ultimately, most shops will be doomed, he admits. Even in-store innovations, like on demand vinyl cutting, can eventually be done more economically online. “The next generation don’t like to own anything physical, whether it’s a digital film, a book or a song,” he says.

There is some hope for independent spirit though, if not shops. In Hull they’re using Feonics’ Whispering Windows technology to help promote local musical talent. This is an audio system that turns any shop window into an improvised sotto voce speaker. Normally Whispering Windows is set up so that window shoppers hear subtle suggestions whispered in their ears as they peer through the plate glass shop front. As part of HullBID Fashion Week, these invisible speakers were used in the town’s Whitefriargate centre to play music from local bands.

So record shops might die, but local bands will still have a shop front. It might be a cake shop, but it’ll be better than nothing.


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