Germans try the key to high-street success

Escom is about to use its Rumbelows acquisition to transform the way we buy PCs. But is it ahead of consumer taste?

THIS week, a new name will hurl itself at the public consciousness. One hundred high streets will find that where a few months ago they had a Rumbelows, they now have an Escom.

By the end of the year there will be no fewer than 300 Escoms, mostly in town but some incorporated in Office World superstores. The German company will have turned itself from a niche retailer into the biggest computer seller in the country. This week's launch, it says, is the largest ever in UK retail.

The appearance of Escom will bring a new dimension to the way we buy computers. Although many shops sell them as part of their range, specialist outlets are still rare. Before buying the Rumbelows chain from Thorn-EMI, Escom was probably the leader, with only 27 outlets.

It started life in 1987 as a retailer, and now has stores in 12 countries. In 1990, it started manufacturing and now has plants in Germany, the Netherlands, and at Irvine in Scotland - the biggest.

It set up shop in Britain in 1993, just in time to benefit from last year's boom in multimedia computer sales, and is currently selling 2,500 units a week. Bernard van Tienen, Escom's board member in charge of the UK, says the company decided to take the opportunity offered by the Rumbelows closure because it believed there was a shift from mail-order to retail. "People want to touch machines before buying them, and they want to take them away immediately," he says. Other companies clearly agree: Dixons now has 14 out-of-town PC World stores, against one two years ago. The group is also revamping its high-street shops, giving more space to computers. Smaller chains such as Tempo and Byte are also growing fast.

John Clare, Dixons' chief executive, says the shift from mail- order to retail is a natural part of a product's life cycle. "Cameras had a very strong mail-order component 20 years ago," he says. "Now that has gone."

But the big question is whether consumers are yet prepared to look at computers in the same way as they would a washing machine, or whether they are still too specialist. Mr van Tienen said: "By the end of the year they will be seen as retail items. Computers are now so user-friendly that every household is a potential customer."

He believes the penetration of personal computers will increase rapidly, matching the United States' 30 per cent of households within two years. The key has been multimedia: CD-Roms are now built in as standard in most PCs, allowing people to play games or run educational programs. Mr Clare says this is why sales have suddenly taken off. "Two years ago, people either used them as an extension of work, or they wondered what to do with them," he says. This year, retailers expect an explosion of modem sales, as more people buy equipment to get on to the Internet or other on-line services.

Richard Perks, a consultant at Verdict Research, says that Escom's underlying logic is right: "Retailers who aren't selling PCs are putting themselves at a major disadvantage." But he is concerned that the Germans may be moving too fast. "The computer is not yet a commodity," he says. "It is still a relatively young market." It may be a mistake to move so heavily into the high street, too. "My feeling is that it's going to be a market better suited to an out-of-town category killer," Mr Perks said.

Mr Clare, meanwhile, says he is relaxed about such a massive competitor appearing along the high street from Dixons. "It will help us to have another company endorsing the idea of buying a PC in a shop," he said.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments