Two weeks ago the high street camera retailer Jessops went into administration. While not totally unexpected it was tinged with sadness for me. Sad in that it’s a shame one of the mainstays of the UK shopping scene for years, having been founded in 1935 by Frank Jessop, is to vanish for ever. It was the first of a mini avalanche of high street downfalls this month with the announcement of similar fates for HMV and Blockbuster. They join the likes of Woolworths, Comet, JJB Sports and Game to have fallen into administration and subsequently dissolve in recent years.
For the first time you will now struggle to buy photography products on the mainstream high street after the demise of not only Jessops, but Jacobs as well, who were well thought of as providers to professionals and enthusiasts alike.
For the amateur/entry-level photographer if you want to buy a camera now you’d better go online, simple as. You’ll need to know in depth what you are buying because you will no longer get the personal, hands on service of the old in-shop environment. You won’t be able to physically pick up a Nikon or Canon compact digital camera and feel the build quality in your hand before handing over your gold coins. From now on you may well have to resort to looking at a tiny thumbnail on a computer screen and reading purchase reviews. For me this takes something away from quality service that is quickly going out of fashion – something that has declined in recent years, all over.
I don’t want to sound alarmist but this is becoming the the reality of retail companies, not just in photography but other traditional businesses such as bookshops and music stores. Physical books and CD’s are being outsold by their electronic counterparts as growing numbers of people convert to iPods and Kindles. Some would call this progress, others evolution, and more than a handful would dismiss it as greater reflection of a society which has become more and more obsessed with sitting at a computer, making as little effort as possible. I think it’s a combination of all three issues actually.
In all honesty I am surprised Jessops lasted this long. I’ve always thought their basic photography goods to be fairly expensive. When studying photography at Salisbury College ten years ago I would blow huge amounts of my student loan on their upwardly-priced 35mm/120mm Fuji film, but back then there was no alternative. Over time, with the introduction of more competition online, I genuinely believed Jessops would be forced to be more competitively priced. But, alas no. For this reason I thought they would be one of the first to go out of business completely, along with Woolworths, when the financial crisis hit. The picture above I took for a business newspaper in 2008 when it was looking likely they might go under – it never got used as they clung on for another five years to their credit.
When you analyse what the bulk of Jessops’ business was – mainly compact/DSLR cameras & related accessory sales, bags and photo printing – one has to concede that all of these can be acquired more conveniently and cost effectively online, from the comforts of home. Companies like Photobox, Wex Photographic and Amazon, to name a few, are doing well out of stealing away this business, and with less overheads.
With the ever growing prominence of the internet for buying consumer goods it is no wonder we are seeing a massive snowball effect that is wiping out our high street slowly but surely. Jessops were simply unable to compete with the pricing of online retailers. I must admit I myself have been guilty of playing a part in their fate, buying much of my equipment online rather than the high street. Why would I pay over the odds for a product that I can purchase ten per cent cheaper online. It’s business isn’t it? It’s as simple as that, and my attitude, as tragic as it may seem to many, is clearly being replicated millions of times over, both in the UK and around the world.