Another major High Street retailer looks set to bite the dust today. Cue national gnashing of teeth over the economy and headlines about thousands of jobs going down the tubes. But without wishing to denigrate the staff of Comet - who are facing an awful situation that any of us could encounter with virtually no notice in this economy – who will really miss the giant electrical retailer?
Comet has always offered a depressing shopping experience. The stores are soulless, the stock control a mess, the information on hand poor, the staff either non-existent or desperately ill-informed.
The favourite trick of the youths - who invariably approach you in store with a ‘hello mate’ or ‘you alright?’ opening gambit - is to either bugger off or simply read the contents of the ticket back at you like you are literally a moron when asked a question. The truth is nowadays many of the items sold by the likes of Comet are beyond the understanding of most of the customers and staff alike - particularly if you only pay employees just above the minimum wage. Shops become a temple to bewilderment and subsequently disorientating places to be.
Arranging delivery was always a nightmare with the likes of Comet – unless you were prepared to hover by your front door for twelve hours – and if you wanted an old item taken away or new item installation then that was going to cost. But it wasn’t just poor service which for me has distinguished much of electrical retailing in recent years it was the pushing of extended warranties.
These massively over-priced insurance contracts made up a huge proportion of electrical retailer’s profits until the past few years. Shop floor staff were corralled into selling these contracts on items big and small. In fact some staff seemed to only know about extended warranties rather than the item.
The trade in extended warranties was in effect the payment protection insurance scandal of electrical retailing. And it’s as much the action taken by the likes of consumer body Which? to curb the trade in extended warranties by tireless campaigning which has pulled the rug from under the likes of Comet as the coming of the internet retailers. But long term and potentially terminal damage was done to retailers’ brand during the 1990s and 2000s though the pushing of extended warranties. Having been cajoled into buying these products once, many customers probably chose to go elsewhere.
The Comet brand may now join the likes of Past Times, MFI and Woolworths on the scrapheap of retail history. If that’s so, I bet it’s not mourned by many.