A goodbye to Woolworths

Woolworths was the meeting point. For almost a decade, a bunch of growing kids would congregate outside the polished shiny metal-framed retractable doors of the Kidderminster branch of Woolworths. Our Saturdays were spent flicking though vinyl records, games for the Atari and Spectrum and playing with the new gadgets from regimented rows of stalls on the shop floor.

If we were feeling flush, we’d run up the escalators to the second floor to buy a cup of the worst tasting coffee on the planet. And if a parent happened to stray by, we’d sting them for an insipid strawberry milkshake or a lifeless coca cola in a plastic cup.

So for me, the demise of Woolworths was as much the commemoration of adolescence as it was a reflection of the Made-in-the-USA downturn.

Yet as the respected New York Venture Capitalist, Fred Wilson writes on his blog, whilst the downturn is the main cause of many of the recent business failures, something more fundamental is happening:

“Clearly the economic downturn is the direct cause of most of these failures but I believe it is the straw that broke the camel’s back in most cases. The internet, now closing in on 15 years old in its mainstream incarnation as the world wide web, is in many cases the underlying cause of these business failures. Bits of information flowing over a wire (or through the air) are just more efficient than physical infrastructure”

People stopped buying records and video games in Woolies years ago. Gone went the Kodak instamatic cameras at affordable prices. News is read online. Globalised manufacturing ensured that the household appliances they used to source more efficiently than their competitors, stopped being the cheapest; undermined by the ability for anyone to send an email to a sales representative of a shipping firm in China.

Globalisation in a connected world did for Woolies. When my son is a teenager, his friends will arrange to meet online and share their music tastes before pressing the ‘buy’ button. They’ll discover the world from their shared trust in favourite web sites.

We are entering an era of profound and irreversible change to the way people choose to live their lives and organise the world around them.

And there isn’t a politician on the planet who is going to stop this.


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