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INTERVIEW Phil Halliday of HMV on the retailer’s centenary and how its shoppers want to buy now

HMV Vault today... Image courtesy of HMV

In the month that HMV has marked its centenary we hear from Phil Halliday, managing director at HMV and Fopp about what’s changed over in 100 years of record selling – and how its customers want to buy now, after a year of Covid-19.

InternetRetailing: HMV launched 100 years ago – what can you tell us about how it used to sell, and what it used to sell back then? Did it just sell in stores before selling online, and when did that start?

Phil Halliday, managing director of HMV and Fopp: Our roots are in disc records, radios, television sets and radiograms. We sold our first CD in 1984, and in 1998 we became the first music retailer to establish a website.

IR: The anniversary comes at the end of the very disruptive year – what effect has that disruption of the pandemic had on hmv and the way it sells to customers? Were shoppers keen to return in-store or is there still a certain level of caution? 

PH: The disruption affected all non-essential retailers, and obviously it’s never great to see your store estate closed and unable to sell. It did mean, however, we accelerated efforts on our website and saw huge growth there. We have a really loyal customer base and they still wanted to shop with us, even if they couldn’t go in-store.

When we reopened, it was our number one priority to keep staff and shoppers safe, so we had a number of measures in place. Our ‘Ring & Reserve’ service meant people could reserve in-stock items, limiting their time in the shop, and we also had ‘List and Leave’, whereby you could give your shopping list to a member of staff and they would collect it all and call you when it was ready to pick up. Those services are still in place now, and at our new Solihull store we have the ‘hmv delivers’ service, where you can order any items not in store to be delivered direct to your door.

“That said, for many of our shoppers it’s the feeling of being able to browse at leisure and feeling part of a community that they really missed. When we reopened again in April, footfall was up 150% compared to previous reopenings, and we got the sense that people had really missed out.”

IR: One hundred years on from launch, things are very different – who are HMV’s customers today?

PH: We have such a huge range of music that our customers come from all walks of life and a whole spectrum of tastes. Vinyl is hugely popular across the board, with a really engaged younger audience of collectors. Our expansion into pop culture merchandise has proven successful, and rather than simply selling someone an album, film or TV show, we’re helping them buy into the whole experience of being a fan of that band, artist or franchise.”

IR: How do they tend to buy from the company? Is mobile the preferred online channel? What is the role of the store these days? Is social media important?

PH: Undoubtedly, the pandemic really accelerated our move online, and now the world is opening back up we’re able to sell tickets online for our in-store appearances and performances, as well as gigs at the hmv Empire, Coventry.

In-store sales are still bigger for us than online, but we definitely see a ‘bricks and clicks’ model as the way forward.

Social media has been a great way to connect with our customers over lockdown. We have Twitter accounts for our individual stores, which means people can find out more easily what’s going on in their local shop, and helps us tailor our offering to what best suits each region.

IR: How do you see HMV and the way it sells changing in the future? 

PH: We’re working towards a happy medium between online and in-store sales, but now that we’re allowed to do so we’re re-introducing our programme of in-store appearances and performances – not just from top music acts, but from local grassroots artists too. To continue to entice shoppers to the high street, you need to give them an experience that can’t be replicated online.

IR: Tell about some of the ways you’re marking HMV’s centenary?

PH: We’ve already had appearances from amazing artists such as Anne-Marie and KSI in several stores, and there are more big names to come for the rest of the year. We also have a special 100th birthday gig with Ed Sheeran at the new hmv Empire in Coventry. The concert will be free to 700 fans on August 25 following our sponsorship of the venue earlier this year.  

Last week we celebrated with ‘Exclusives Day’, selling 1921 Centenary Edition vinyl in-store and online. It’s a round-up of our favourite records from the past 100 years, with LPs from Kate Bush, Sam Smith and The XX. There were queues at stores across the country which was brilliant to see. We’ll be doing more vinyl drops later in the year from the likes of Dolly Parton, Lou Reed and Foo Fighters to keep the celebrations rolling.”

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