As any given year draws to a close, it’s traditional for there to be articles reviewing it and, in particular, paying tribute to those we’ve lost during that past year, so, in keeping with this tradition, here is a quick round-up of some famous brand names which disappeared during 2018 and some thoughts on what went wrong.
Even though most of the disappearances were from the high street and even though Wonga wasn’t the sort of company which could reasonably expect to receive touching tributes, its demise would have been impossible to overlook if only because of the amount of media coverage it received. The reasons for its downfall have already been widely covered but, in brief, Wonga got rather too enthusiastic about pushing legal boundaries and was fatally wounded when those boundaries snapped back into place.
Toys R Us
While it’s tempting to blame the closure of Toys R Us on competition from internet retailers, particularly Amazon, the reality is rather more nuanced. The fact is that it is usually very difficult for bricks-and-mortar retailers to offer the sort of low prices seen on the internet, but consumers do not necessarily base their purchase decisions on price alone. Convenience is also a factor and while convenience may be open to interpretation, as a minimum, real-world retailers have to offer the same hassle-free shopping experience as consumers have expect from the best online retailers. Toys R Us just did not do this and it certainly did not make any attempt to make shopping there a form of entertainment in itself as, for example, Hamley’s has done. In short, it continued to do what it had been doing back in the days when it had no real competition and has paid the price for its complacency.
Very similar comments apply to Maplin although arguably with a greater degree of irony since Maplin was, fundamentally, an electronics store. Unfortunately for Maplin and its former staff, there is a difference between understanding electronics in general and understanding the attraction of online retail and how to deal with it. Maplin’s website, like its stores, was frankly a jumbled mess, which was frustrating to navigate and its real-world retail staff often lacked the expertise necessary to persuade customers to visit the store in order to benefit from their knowledge. In short, like Toys R Us, Maplin simply failed to give people a reason to visit their stores either online or in the real world.
The endangered list
A full list of brands which were forced into store closures during 2018 would take up a full article on its own, especially if it involved a look at the reasons behind the closures. The biggest names however are arguably John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, House of Fraser, WH Smiths and Mothercare. While these names may invoke nostalgia, at least amongst those of a certain age, happy memories do not sell products and services by themselves and a large number of stores which are too new to be historic and too old to be modern is not a good basis for competing in the 21st century retail world. It’s no coincidence that these stores are all, essentially, generalists, rather than niche retailers who have become respected for their expertise in their sector. This is true even of Mothercare, which is the most focused of all of these brands. What’s more, they have all, to some degree, struggled to maintain the desirability of their own-brand products, which are a defensive moat for any retailer. Both Marks and Spencer and John Lewis have been (re)gaining ground in this area and it will be interesting to see if they can use this to improve their fortunes.