The Misery of the UK High Street

By Commenter Eadingas on at

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than a UK electronics store. We've all been there. The stench of mouldy '80s carpet. The constantly-whining theft alarms. The cheap plastic pedestals which seem to bio-degrade in your hands. The display phones and tablets without Wi-Fi connection; cameras with depleted batteries; everything thrown around on the shelves seemingly at random, like cars being sold by some deranged salesman who decided to take out the wheels and engines and scatter them all around the showroom in the least convenient way possible.

Wandering among this sad, post-apocalyptic landscape are the underpaid drones, who gain all their knowledge of the products they're selling from the price labels. Conceived at a time when "knowing stuff" was a domain of shunned spotty geeks, and the customers were expected to buy anything the salesmen put into their hands, the high street stores cling to the idea that selling high-end electronics is no different to selling potatoes. If somebody wants a laptop, he will come in and buy a laptop, no matter what brand, shape or size it is, or what it's got inside.

Except nobody's coming anymore. The big chains are going broke or have to "consolidate" and "cut costs" to keep up. The high street electronics store as we know it is dying, and not a day too soon. The easiest goat to scape is, of course, Amazon and other online stores. And there's a lot of truth in that, of course; but not just because Amazon is able to undercut the price of the goods.

It's because, right now, it offers a much better shopping experience than anything the high street has to offer -- except for Apple, natch.

What the management of these sad excuses for a high-tech showroom missed out on, is that computers have become luxury goods again. An Ultrabook takes you back at least £800. The new hybrid Win 8 tablets easily reach over £1,200. That's a devastating amount of money to spend at one time; the equivalent of many people's monthly pay. If I wanted to spend that much money in any other shop, I would demand to be treated like a king. This is the price of a high-class suit; a couture dress; a used car. With prices like these, the electronic store should look like Harrods or Selfridges -- not like an old garage filled with your dad's broken gadgets and your brother's stoner friends.

Apple is the only one who is getting that -- and it's one of the main keys to its success. An Apple Store looks exactly like the kind of place that sells things that cost thousands.  I don't need to describe it -- everyone knows what one looks like. I never owned anything Apple, but even I've been to an Apple Store once or twice, just to soak in the temple-like atmosphere.

Compare that to the sad excuse for a Samsung Store on London's Tottenham Court Road. I like Samsung and would like to maybe buy one of their laptops one day. But I've only ever dared to enter the Samsung Store once. It's got the glass-and-brushed-aluminium look right, but that's where the similarities end. The sleepy, malevolent drones replace the Geniuses. All the interesting products are either switched off or locked in cupboards or simply not there. Nobody wants you to be there, nobody makes you feel welcome -- nobody wants your money.

(There are, by the way, other ways to make shopping for electronics pleasant than turning the store into a temple of steel and glass. Anyone who's ever been to Yodobashi or Bic Camera in Japan knows what fun it is to shop there. Visiting an Asian electronics store is a tourist attraction in itself, like going to a great geeky amusement arcade.)

So I go online, despite the fact that I would really prefer to touch and play with what is probably the most expensive purchase I make this year, rather than just see the doctored photos on the website -- even if it meant paying a bit extra. I go online, because I feel wanted there. I can spend as much time as I want browsing the reviews and technical details, without the stale smell, without a drone asking me constantly if I needed help (and then running away if I do), and without the omnipresent high-pitched whine of a broken alarm. It is not my favourite way to buy things, but it's by far the most convenient.

High street be damned.

Eadingas, or James Calbraith as he's known elsewhere, is a 34 year old Poland-born writer, foodie and traveller, currently residing in South London. His debut historical fantasy novel, The Shadow of Black Wings, was published in July 2012 and hit the Historical Fantasy and Alternate History bestsellers list on Amazon US & UK.


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