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back to article Why did Comet fail? Hint: It wasn't just the credit insurers

Comet's fiscal light was burning less brightly well before OpCapita entered its orbit, but the venture capitalist's involvement snuffed it out entirely. Signs that all was not well can be traced back to 2008, when Comet's profit before tax tumbled from £56m to £25m. In successive years it posted losses of £8m, £3m and finally £ …

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Most high street shops are doomed to failure, times change.

All the big ones (and many small ones) have become a jack of all trades and expert at none. A few weeks ago I needed a new rechargeable battery for my sons xbox.

Normally I would have bought on-line, but needed it urgently, so Saturday afternoon, I set out to buy one.

I simply wanted a rechargeable battery for around the £10 - £15 mark bearing in mind I could get a MS one online for £12 or a twin pack from a 3rd party for around £9.

I went everywhere, what stood out to me was they all were the same.

Didn't matter whether it was Tesco, Comet, Currys etc they had a tiny selection of lots of things and they all seemed to have a very similar tiny selection. Didn't matter whether it was a PC mouse, an Xbox or PS3 accessory or what, it was dismal.

I initially didn't find one shop that had a 3rd party rechargeable battery and the few that did have a MS one in stock were around double the price if not more than I could buy online

All of them had ones available online at a fairly reasonable price, but the actual stores were a joke.

I finally went to blockbusters only to get told by the sales assistant that they didn't sell them and I had to point out to her that they were infact hanging on the wall behind her.

So I spent about 2 hrs finding a store with one in stock, driving al over the place and paid £5 more for 1 than I could get two for online.

Tesco started selling things like tools etc and in all honestly became a sort of pound shop, selling really really crap quality stuff at inflated prices.

Comet, you'd walk in the shop staff would pounce on you, you would politely tell them to go away and they never ever had what I wanted to buy in their stores.

Argos, I use Argos as it's open until 8pm and if I need something urgently, I can quickly pick it up. But recently, almost everything I want is only available online. Its now getting to the point where I don't even bother looking any more.

Online, I can buy at a considerably cheaper price, I have far far far far more choice, I have the distance selling regs to protect me, I haven't got to drive, I know its in stock (usually) before I order.

Going to the shops, they have a very very limited range, staff often seem smarmy or pushy, rarely have what I want in stock, always more expensive and the one very rare time I used PCworld as I needed something urgently, I reserved online to pick up at the store (was told was in stock), drove 20 miles to the shop only to find they lied.

I can order at 10:55pm on Ebuyer, pay something like £10 and have it delivered next day and still be a LOT cheaper than I can buy it in a store

I use town centre and out of town shopping places less and less, as to most people I know. My wife has a lot of elderly clients in her job, the vast majority have no problems using a PC and much prefer ordering online to having to go out and get a bus etc.

So with places like Oxford Street aside, give it a few years, I see the average town centre as being completely dead, or having to change completely and become more entertainment and relaxation places than shopping places.

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So you could have bought it online but because you needed it now it cost double the price? That is, in some respects, neither unusual nor immoral. If I haven't bothered to make sandwiches yesterday, then I will need to pay double for a pair from the shop what I could have paid for the ingredients. And they won't taste as nice or be as filling either.

Obviously the problem Comet couldn't survive just on the minority who need something urgently.

Also, you could have saved money by telling your son it won't kill him to play outside for a few days.

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I love the way you presume my 19 yr old son should play outside :)

When he gets home from uni at Christmas, I'll suggest it to him. I was going out anyway and said I'd see if I could get him one.

Your missing my point though, very very very poor limited range, and the same very poor limited range wherever I went, and most not having the products in stock.

I usually do all my shopping online except for food shopping, while I was trying to find his battery, I looked at other things in the stores and said to my wife "and they wonder why so many stores are closing"

A few of this, a few of that, higher prices and much lower choice.

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Anonymous Coward

"Also, you could have saved money by telling your son it won't kill him to play outside for a few days."

I agree here, if it was for anything other than a games console accessory I could understand the messing about shop hopping. I cant see a single thing that would justify the urgency of a rechargeable battery pack. Besides the extra cost of the retail shops, the petrol and my time has to come into account. and why couldn't little johnny go down the shops and get his own battery pack?

But the ultimate fail has to be that you never thought to pick up a pack of batteries from a supermarket for use while the online shop managed delivery !

I accept I have to pay more than I would online in a retail outlet, but that premium has to be because of immediate availability.... If I cant justify thee premium, then you just have to wait !!

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FAIL

Interesting analysis

Everyone has said it although I would suggest making the stores identical is part of their downfall.

For example when I grew up in Plymouth, there were 3 games within 300 metres of each other. One speacialised in Sega, one predominatly had Nintendo and one did Playstation. Now when I go into Plymouth city centre there are 4 Games and 1 Gamestation. They sell exactly the same stuff (same shelf sapce for Wii, PS3, xBox 360, Vita, etc..), there is no reason to go in one over the other and if it isn't in the chart don't bother.

Over the weekend i wanted a PS3 AV To VGA cable we tried 2 comets, 3 curry's 2 maplins, 1 PC World, 1 game, 1 gamestation, 2 Argos's, B&Q & 2 HMV's. All of them had exactly the same accessories at the same price point. That was accross Gloucester & Cheltenham. The only place that understood what I was after was in a Maplins in Gloucester and the guy in there said they had ran out 2 weeks ago and hadn't had any in since.

Firstly having more than one store within 5 miles seems wastefull, secondly if you are going to have multiple make sure they aim at different markets.

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I needed to buy a new car battery today.

From my local Halfords (not including fitting), Bosch HSB013 £119.99

http://www.halfords.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product_storeId_10001_catalogId_10151_productId_734763_langId_-1_categoryId_165762

Just bought the exact same battery on line including next day delivery for £75.89

http://www.carparts4less.co.uk/cp4l/c/Renault_Laguna_1.8_2003/p/car-parts/car-electrics-and-car-lighting/electrical/car-battery/?444770278&1&aa67f1c7188b4a36f7d349dc908afd3df48ac965&000020

That is why I buy nearly everything online

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Silver badge

Indeed. It's not just a question of a pound or two, either. That's, what, 36% saving? And the guy who sold it to you still has to have had made a profit, set up a website, kept stock, posted it to you, paid taxes, tracked customers, etc.

If it was a few pounds difference, Amazon and a lot of web shops would see an awful lot less custom. But when something is esoteric, rare, or just plain stupidly expensive for no good reason, they go elsewhere. Shocking that.

It's not even like it's a Tesco-style "let's make all the little guys nearby suffer by taking a loss while profiting elsehwere", this is a one-off purchase of an item specifically within their product range that I can get cheaper from smaller outfits selling the exact same product who I will probably only use one a decade, if that.

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Meh

I have all the usual opinions of Halfrauds - over priced shiny gear knobs etc.

But when I needed a 3 pronged puller to remove the bottom pulley from a crankshaft , at 3:30 on a sunday afternoon - halfords came through for me , at a reasonable price too.

Thats when the net cant help you.

Any other time shop around!

and congrats on the battery - i bet that wasnt cheap to post too!

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When I found it, I expected it to cost a fortune to post.

But no.

Battery £71.94

Next day delivery £3.95

Total £75.89

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Anonymous Coward

first mistake is halfords! they are ok if you want chav mobile accessories, but the staff in there are as useless as comet.

the best place to get car parts is always your local motor factors. next to that is a new chain that s popping up everywhere, euro car parts.... you could have got a battery for your laguna starting at £56....

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But I didn't buy the cheapest battery.

The place that delivered my Bosch battery today, had batteries for my Laguna starting at £49.14 including vat and free delivery

http://www.carparts4less.co.uk/cp4l/c/Renault_Laguna_1.8_2003/p/car-parts/car-electrics-and-car-lighting/electrical/car-battery/?444770270&1&aa67f1c7188b4a36f7d349dc908afd3df48ac965&000020

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Stop

The world of retail is changing

We all know what has happened in the world with credit crunch, financial crisis and online stores battering the tripe out of bricks and mortar operations. Before the first 2 happened (retailers should have seen Amazon coming at least), companies like Comet thought they were on a pigs back and expanded almost out of control. Now reality has taken its bite.

You can't blame the VC's for doing what they do best - making a profit out of such massive collapses. The short sighted management teams of these firms allowed such a position to exist.

Eventually the supermarkets are going to wipe out the big box shifters and online shopping is here to stay. The future for electrical retailers is a hybrid of in town small retail stores, combined with a brilliant online presence and a great delivery service. Though the factor that will dictate the most is the experience in store - very highly trained professional staff and less effort to punt the bloody insurance deal at you.

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Vic
Silver badge

Re: The world of retail is changing

> The future for electrical retailers is a hybrid of in town small retail stores

The future for electrical retailers is entirely on-line. Their former premises will be taken over by collection depots, who receive your on-line orders on your behalf and let you pick them up at a convenient time...

Vic.

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Coat

news to me

I thought it was beacause Comet airframes began suffering catastrophic metal fatigue, with three of them tearing apart during mid-flight in well-publicised accidents. The Comet was withdrawn from service and extensively tested to discover the cause; the first incident had been incorrectly blamed on adverse weather. Design flaws including window shape and installation methodology were ultimately identified;

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Pirate

Re: news to me

They did, and De Havilland kept a little quiet about it at the time. By the time the problem was fixed with versions 2-4, Boeing took over the World.

Not quite the same Comet...but close

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Re: news to me

Nimrods are still going strong(ish) though. Did they strengthen the airframe?

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Happy

Re: news to me

Which Nimrods would they be then? The ones that were cut up for scrap or the ones that are now in museums?

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Terminator

So get £54m in *cash* (-> parent) from the previous owner and paid for the deal on *credit*

I find their lack of faith in there retail ability disturbing....

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Anonymous Coward

Physical presence

Back in the 1990s I managed a car repair business. We could fit 2 cars in the workshop at any one time, and had space outside to allow cars to be parked for delivery/collection (and to be worked on if the weather wasn't too bad).

Business rates were c. £3,000 p.a. (but when I left the UBR escalator was dragging them up to £10,000)

Insurance was £2,500 p.a.

Electricity (no gas) standing charge as £250 p.a. as was

B.T Line rental

Paraffin (for heating) £1,000 p.s.

that gives a MINIMUM of £7,000 that you have to make before you open the gate in the morning. Or, to put it another way, each and every week, you need to have over £100. And then customers grumbled because you wouldn't work for free.

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WTF?

Re: Physical presence

And that's the problem for a large number of high street vendors.

Someone mentioned earlier on about the closure of town centres and whilst it's very sad, it seems inevitable in the case of a large number of them.

Landlords (and I very much include local councils in that) continue to increase their rent levels, which hasn't helped a large number of smaller businesses which are struggling in the current economic climate. Many of those businesses (and some multiples) then close their premises either by choice, or because they're financially forced to, leaving the unit empty.

Landlords don't seem to get that empty unit = no rent.

What they need to do is lower those rents. Although by lowering overall rents it may result in lower income in the short term, it strengthens those businesses and will create a more successful shopping environment which will allow them to earn more in the longer term.

Typical short term planning!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Physical presence

My nearest shopping mall - the Kingfisher in Redditch - is a microcosm of the past 4 years. Woolworths, Birthday, Past Times, Officers Club, Alders, TJ Hughes, JJB Sports, Millets. Plus the units that were already empty. I would guess there are 15 empty retail units. And frankly I can't see them ever being filled again. The place has already reached card/mobile phone/shoe even horizon.

Maybe they should start charging full rates on empty units after a 6 month period ?

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Anonymous Coward

A fifteen-month year?

I wondered why 2008 was so tiring.

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Lacked any competitive edge or USP

Firstly a lot of people who only use bricks and mortar stores to see good before buying online are shooting yourself in the foot, eventually those stores will go out of business and you will have no way of viewing your purchase. However saying that, I would argue that comet or any of the large electronic retailers could not offer anything that the internet couldn't, no one needs a sales staff to read the specs, and then sales staff cant offer up reviews or go into more detail about the product like you can on the internet. This is where I see the high street picking things up, small stores, with people who know what they are talking about, this is where people will want to go, as long as people support the service they receive.

Not so long ago, I popped into Comet with a list for a load of kitchen appliances, they were willing to match some of the prices, however tried to sell me the extended warranty . My reply was the John Lewis offer an extended warranty with the price that they were going to match, will they include the warranty? They replied no, so I asked them for a good reason for me not to go to John Lewis, all they could do was say that they had spent the time in helping me select the appliances, I pointed out I had already done this before I came into the store, they then started to plead with me to buy from them, when I refused they got quite aggressive. I wonder why they failed?

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Thumb Up

Bit of schadenfreude in this for me because back in about '99ish I was Comet shop floor staff but I was working down at the head office for a bit. I got caught by the regional sales manager in the corridor, he asked me what I thought of HQ. I said to him "You need to sort out some kind of eCommerce website because otherwise your sales are going to get eaten up by Amazon" Laugh? He damn nearl spat his coffee all over me before retorting "We don't see the internet as a big part of our business" before going about his business. So, I went away thinking I was stupid while him and the rest of them set Comet on a path to self destruction. Ha. Hope he got state mimimum redundancy.

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FAIL

Power of the public

Comet died because people were not buying things from them.

There may be a hundred reasons for that but in the end it was the oldest retail truth in the world. The Customer is always Right.

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