Music price comparison site

6 08 2009

comparedownloadscreenshotThe internet is filled with dozens of sites that let you compare prices of things like car insurance, utilities, credit cards and even meerkats. Such sites are popular since they allow the consumer to get the best possible deal without the hassle of going to each individual store and comparing prices. Well, there is a new comparison site, imaginatively named Comparedownload.com, that allows you to compare the prices of music downloads from different stores like 7digital, Amazon, Tesco Digital, We7 and iTunes.

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Comparedownload.com is the first website in the UK that allows music fans to compare the price of music downloads and seems to have stumbled upon a gap in the market that seems so simple and obvious now that its mentioned. The website’s founder, James Bott, says that it was the frustration of having to search through different sites for the cheapest price for music downloads that lead him to develop this website.

 

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), only 5% of total music downloads are done so legally. This means that there is a huge market for legal downloads if the other 95% are tapped into. If the market potential for online downloads is indeed so huge, why has it taken so long for a site that allows the consumer to compare prices of downloads to be launched? And that too this isn’t a venture by some business seeking to exploit a gap in the market, but the result of someone’s frustration and need.

 

Maybe its because there aren’t enough sites selling music legitimately that have huge catalogues that can be compared. The reason for that is perhaps that its too hard for sites trying to sell music legitimately to bring all the record companies together and convince them to allow a website to sell their songs. And if the website doesn’t have a wide collection of songs, customers will obviously not come. The other quick and simple alternative is file sharing, which of course is illegal.

 

There is of course another alternative, buying a CD. But what if you only want one single, and not the whole album? Also, it’s a lot less convenient than downloading music. CD sales, according to the IFPI, dropped by about 15% last year. Of course, the music industry will be quick to put the blame for the drop on illegal file sharers who want to listen to music, but pay nothing for it. But I don’t think that all those who share music do so because they are heartless or get some sort of pleasure by “stealing” someone’s work, as they are often portrayed. I think it’s a bit hasty to attribute the drop in sales of CD’s to online file sharing. Maybe its because the way people view music and the way they want to obtain their favourite music is changing.

 

Recent surveys suggest that an increasing number of people who previously got their music from file sharing are switching to legitimate music streaming sites like Last.fm, We7 and Spotify. But the business models of such music streaming is completely different from those of the music companies. Music companies want to charge the consumer for each individual download and control how many times the music is moved around whereas music streaming sites view the delivery of music as a service that would allow revenue to be generated by displaying relevant ads and through sales of complementary products like merchandise, tickets to gigs, etc. The biggest hurdle again for such streaming services I think are record labels that may need a lot of convincing to let the sites stream their music. Many are sceptical about streaming sites generating significant revenue that would compensate for the drop in CD sales.

 

To a certain extent, I think that it’s fair to say that the music companies are victims of their own greed and their inability to view the internet as a means of diversifying rather than viewing it as a threat to their business. There are a huge number of online retailers selling all kinds of things from books to computers and they have been operating for quite some time now. Yet, the number of online music sites are still quite low and only now beginning to increase. No wonder then that although you can buy pretty much anything on the web, it’s still relatively hard to buy music legally. It must be so hard to get them all on board and agree on particular business model that it takes somebody with utter determination and nerves of steel with financial backing to achieve a deal. Imagine the kind of problems that Steve Jobs must have faced of convincing each and every record company to make their catalogue available for sale when Apple was planning to launch the iTunes store.

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High Street Blues

23 12 2008

BRITAIN-BUSINESS-RETAIL-SALESThe trading that occurs in the run up to Christmas is very crucial to retailers even in the “normal” years. It allows them to make up for the losses they might have incurred over the year and helps them prepare financially for the coming year. 2008 has been, by any standards, anything but a normal year. Huge banks have become small banks, some have been swallowed up by bigger banks, some have merged with other banks while some have disappeared altogether.

Little surprise then that the past few weeks have been really tense for the retailers. The number of shoppers visiting the shops have decreased. As a result, retailers have been forced to cut their prices to attract shoppers. According to Experian, the number of shoppers during the weekend, the last weekend before Christmas, was down by 8.7% as compared to last year. However, the number of shoppers yesterday were up 13.6% as compared to the same Monday last year.

It’s a bit unfair to compare the two corresponding Mondays because last year the Monday was Christmas Eve. The kind of shoppers who go shopping on Christmas Eve are generally those looking for food items or ingredients for their Christmas dinner, last minute shoppers or those looking for last minute bargains.

Even though the number of shoppers increased, it still remains to be seen how much revenue that translates into. The main reason why more consumers went out to shop perhaps has a lot to do with a last minute heavy discounts by retailers in desperate attempt to attract shoppers. According to the accountants Ernst & Young, the average discounts were 40%, up from 38% last year. It means that even though people had more shopping bags in their hands, the retailers wouldn’t have made a lot of money from that.

Although the high street is seeing a decline in the number of shoppers, according to Hitwise, the number of people visiting the websites of high street retailers has increased. Between Dec 18 and Dec 21, traffic to online retailers(including internet-only and high street) increased by 2.2% on average as compared to last year. Websites of high street retailers saw their traffic increase by 2.7% on Saturday and 5.9% on Sunday as compared to last year.

When it comes to prices, mostly the online retailers clearly have an advantage over their high street rivals. But their biggest drawback is that the items have to ordered before a certain date to ensure that they are delivered in time for Christmas. On the other hand, the websites of high retailers allow the shoppers to book their products online and pick them up instore. It may not be cheaper than the internet-only retailers, but it certainly is more convenient. One of the put-offs of shopping on the high street before Christmas is clearly having to navigate through crowded streets and aisles holding your shopping bags. It is also very hard to compare prices across different retailers and browse the items leisurely.

The rise in the number of shoppers will definately be of some relief to retailers. But it will by no means make up for the dismal sales and revenues they have generated over the past few weeks. Woolworths and MFI have gone bankrupt and Whittard of Chelsea is said to be on the brink of administration. And it is clear that more will have the same fate in the new year, what remains to be seen is who they will be.

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Sales rise amidst the credit crunch

19 12 2008
Oxford Street, London

Oxford Street, London

According to figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the volume of sales between September and November rose by 0.5% as compared to the three months before it. This may not sound good, but compared to all the doom and gloom and the difficulty of obtaining credit, it does sound good. Also, the value of weekly sales in November were 2.9% higher than in November last year.

However, the high street retailers beg to differ with the figures. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that the figures released by the ONS were optimistic and painted a “rosy picture” of the current difficulties. According to BRC’s own findings, the sales value actually fell by 0.4%. Experian reported that the footfall (the amount of traffic generated by shoppers visiting the stores) in stores for the first three days of the week had decreased by 11.5% compared to last year.

It seems hard to believe that the increase in the volume in sales could have lead to a increase in the value of sales. After all, the increase in the volume of sales is largely due to a wave of heavy discounting by the high street retailers, especially after Woolworths slashed its prices to get rid of its stock. It is likely that the spectacular and well-publicised offers by retailers would have made some reluctant consumers go out and spend. It is also equally likely that many who generally would have waited for Boxing Day sales have instead done their shopping before Christmas since they feel that the discounts offer good value for money. After all, there is a limit to the amount of discounts that the retailers can offer before it starts eroding their profits. So many consumers may feel that the discounts are as good as they are going to get. If this is true, what would happen is that the average amount of sales during the Christmas period hasn’t really increased, but the shopping has been concentrated to a few weeks before Christmas.

The reason for this difference in figures, according to Reuters, is that the figures of “the ONS figures capture internet shopping more fully”. According to the ONS, the value of online sales was £220 million in November and it accounted for 3.8% of the total retail revenues. According to Experian, its company Hitwise which is an online competitive intelligence service, found that the websites of high street retailers had 22% more visits than its internet-only rivals. This could explain why the sales have increased even though the number of shoppers visiting the stores seem to have decreased.

Many shoppers percieve the prices of online retailers to be cheaper than their high street counterparts. And this has been shown to be true in most cases. After all, they do not have to worry about expensive overhead costs like rent and sales staff. However, many shops on the high street nowadays allow their customers to haggle and bag bargains, and this is not available to online shoppers.

It would be interesting to see the figures of  the overall retail sales before and after Christmas since that would allow us to see the whole picture.
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Spend, Spend, Spend

19 11 2008
christmas-shoppingAccording to recent figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the value of total UK sales as of October 2008 were down 2.2% on a like-for-like basis as compared to last year. Food and Drink was the only sector to have shown an increase in sales. Consumers are cutting back and postponing purchases that are not needed and focusing on the wants instead. Buying patterns are changing as well since many now prefer to cook at home from scratch and are focusing on products that offer them value for money and are actually actively seeking out promotions, discounts and offers.

This is bad news for retailers who are desperately depending on Christmas sales this year more than ever. No wonder then that for many high street retailers, Christmas has indeed come early this year. Discounts and promotions which are normally seen after Christmas are beginning to make their way into stores at a high street near you- five weeks before Christmas.

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Leading the way is Debenhams, who is having a “spectacular” three-day sale, starting today, where many of the products are going to be 20-25% cheaper. But its Marks & Spencer who is receiving the most attention and media coverage for its “20 % off” sale for only one day-tomorrow. Other high street retailers are likely to join the battle to fight for every penny of the consumer’s disposable income this season. In the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, more and more such promotions will come out to entice people to come in and spend their money.

But, as Gillian Lacey-Solymar pointed out on BBC’s Working Lunch, these promotions are likely to happen on weekdays. This is because the promotions are meant to draw people into the stores, which they do anyways on weekends, and so there is no point offering them heavy discounts then if they are likely to settle for less.

It is highly unlikely that these promotions will have a huge impact since people will only buy it if they perceive it as value for money and more importantly, if it is on the top of their priority list. The truth is, people are still being squeezed by rising utility prices and high food prices. Also, almost every other day a well known business announces job cuts which is likely to make those still in employment worry about their security and hence, save every penny they can.

Undoubtedly, all these promotions are good for the consumers. But, offering such huge discount means that retailers are effectively cutting their profit margins, or sometimes even making a loss just to shift their stock. What this means is that in the long term, many retailers will not be able to sustain themselves and it will not be financially viable for them to operate any longer, and hence will go bust.

So what? Well, this would result in job losses, numerous suppliers losing their orders and so on. When the economy does recover, it will mean one less competitor in the marketplace and hence, less competitive prices.

So, in the short term, the promotions are good for the consumers, in the long term however, maybe not.

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Profits at Starbucks go Skinny Latte

12 11 2008


Starbucks Coffee House

Starbucks Coffee House

Starbucks Share PriceProfits for the coffee chain Starbucks fell by 97% in the fourth quarter to $5.4 million, as compared to $158.5 million this time last year. Although the sales revenue were up 3% to $2.52 billion, like for like sales actually decreased by 8%.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise then since consumers are cutting back on what they deem “luxuries” and are more cautious about their spending and are literally watching their pennies. Starbucks is perhaps well known for its high prices as much as it is for its coffee. Its share price dropped by 3% after the news broke out and was trading at $9.91. Last year, it would have been worth around $20-$30.Starbucks said that it has seen a decrease in customer traffic, in other words the number of customers visiting its branches, and also, crucially, the value of each transaction per customer. So, it is likely that the increase in sales revenue is likely to be due to the increase in prices.

Although drinking coffee is one of life’s little pleasures, its prices in the cafés are anything but little. A cup of coffee for $4 or £2.50 may seem insignificant on its own, but multiply them up for every working day of the month and you are left with a sizeable figure. Starbucks could lower its prices, but it is seen as a premium brand and would as a result devalue its brand value. Think of Marks & Spencer’s food range competing on its prices with Tesco’s Value range or Sainsbury’s Basic range and you get the picture about devaluing the brand value.

It’s likely that other coffee chains like Café Nero and Costa Coffee would now be worried about their own situation while the likes of McDonald’s will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of attracting coffee drinkers with their cheap prices. McCoffee anyone?

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Keynes way of kick starting the economy

22 10 2008


Argos Logo 120x60
Home Retail Group, the company that owns the DIY store Homebase and retailer Argos, reported a loss of £450 million in its half-year operating profit. The reason for this loss is attributed not only to consumers restricting their spending, but also the weakening of the Pound which means that it costs more to import products from other countries, add to that the increase in the cost of raw materials, production and transportation. Products that are seen as a luxury have seen their sales and consecutively their profits drop as consumers switch to cheaper value-for-money products. Budget stores, as a result, have seen their sales and profits increase rapidly, in cases like Poundland, even double.

However, a drop in sales at Argos, which is not exactly an upmarket store, should create a little more than just a flutter amongst businesses operating in similar sectors. This is because it suggests that not only have consumers changed their shopping habits and switched to cheaper stores, they have stopped spending altogether on items they deem unnecessary. There are concerns about unemployment as many are worried that they would lose their jobs. The utility bills and mortgage repayments are rising. All this creates an atmosphere of uncertainity and leaves people preferring to save any surplus rather than spend it as they did before.

John Keynes, Image from Business Week

John Keynes, Image from Business Week

According to John Maynard Keynes, a well-known British economist, who lived during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the only way to give the economy a kick-start, is to spend and spend and spend. This is because a recession is caused by a fall in demand, not by the fall in supply. Demand has fell quite a lot recently because the credit that backed it no longer exists. Although Governments around the world have injected banks with capital, banks in turn have effectively turned off the tap of credit. Keynes believed that in the event of consumer spending decreasing, the Government should maintain or even increase its spending rather than cutting back. The people employed in the sectors where the Government spends its money would in turn spend their wages benefiting the local businesses who in turn spend and make investments and that gets the whole economy moving again. That way, a downward spiral of recession could be turned into an upward spiral of growth.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is adopting Keynes’s ideas. He said that the Government would increase its spending on large scale projects. In the long term, it means increasing the national debt as the Government has to borrow money to keep up its spending. So be it. Keynes said that Governments should think of the short term, because, as he put it, “in the long run we are all dead”.





“Pizza Hut” gets a healthy makeover

6 10 2008
Pasta Hut, Image for DailyMail

Pasta Hut, Image from DailyMail

Pizza Hut, famous for its pizzas (no prizes for guessing), is launching a new healthier menu which is to include pastas. As a part of this revamp, 30 of its branches in the UK are to be re-branded to “Pasta Hut”, for the time being atleast, to reiterate the point that it is going to sell pastas. This re-brand is expected to cost £100m and will last 6 years. Pizza Hut has over 700 franchises in the UK and the first one opened in 1973, over 35 years ago. They hope that this move will help put the brand a upmarket position with a sophisticated and chic atmosphere that will clearly give it an edge over its competitors.

It seems that Pizza Hut is trying to attract health conscious middle-class people affected the credit crunch who are looking to downgrade, but are still looking for a more healthier, more wholesome option. This is the only way it is going to survive the current economic climate since it is likely that many of its current customers belonging to the lower income group would be downgrading to cheaper options and hence Pizza Hut has to somehow attract new customers.

However, not a lot changes as by re-branding to Pasta Hut, it is again restricting itself to a particular product line, like it did before, with pizzas. Currently, pasta accounts for around 3% to 4% of the sales, but Pizza Hut’s chief executive in Britain, Alasdair Murdoch, hopes it will account for around 10% soon.

Those willing to try it out should go to the following website http://www.pastahut.co.uk/Home

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