Time is up for PC retailers

Strong strategy, great products and retail nous are needed to survive in the high street

There's no room for error in high technology retail. With margins paper thin, competition intense and people unwilling to upgrade as often as before, this is no place for the ill-prepared. Even Dixons, whose commercial ruthlessness and hard-nosed instinct for sales are legendary, has had to close stores and cut costs.

It's by no means clear that the PC market can support large retail endeavours. Running stores is an expensive business, and one that's up against far more efficient online shops. With a tech-savvy population and copious support and information available on the Web, there are few reasons to go into a shop and spend a lot of money.

It’s also unclear that anything will change this state of affairs. Despite Microsoft's excitable promotion of its Media Center as another channel to get new PCs into the home, the UK market seems more interested in personal video recorders as cheaper, more reliable and easier to use. Tablets and PDAs are also unlikely to get people flooding onto the streets, and even if some exciting new technology does revitalise the market there's no real need to sell it through dedicated retail chains. Apple has not notably suffered from its very limited use of bricks and mortar.

Even given all these considerations, a company's chances for prosperity — or even mere survival — are not increased if its products aren't up to snuff. Granville Technology Group has been repeatedly criticised by staff and outsiders for idiosyncratic management decisions and questionable policies that are reflected in its brands' less than stellar reputation for reliability and customer service; these are not attributes that serve a company well in difficult times. Good marketing and distribution cannot compensate for shortcomings elsewhere.

For those affected by events as staff or customers, the lessons learned are painful but not unprecedented. A deal that looks too good to be true is just that, and if you feel you are being badly treated by a company then it's a good idea to go elsewhere.

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