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Happy Record Store Day everybody! It's my second favourite day of the year.
A day where I wake up at 4am to join the masses of other record collectors in the cold dawn with a bacon sandwich and thermos of tea in hand, to queue up for this year's limited batch of releases only available to independent record shops.
Record Store Day is an annual event designed to keep the physical record industry afloat, in particular the smaller labels, bands and independent stores that still hold vinyl close to their hearts.
Of course, this idea of vinyl being a ‘quaint affectation’ is far from the reality. British Phonographic Industry (BPI) revealed earlier in the year that vinyl sales are the highest they’ve been for 15 years. More than 780,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2013, this is a 101% increase on 2012 sales.
Major labels are getting in on the racket too. Titles this year include releases from One Direction and Katy Perry. Now you can be as sniffy as you like about these but I can't say the first singles I bought were any better and if it gets a new generation into record stores than that's all for the greater good as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, the point of all this preamble is to set the scene for this Saturday morning, where I’ll be darting across London (in previous years the whole of the UK) to soak up the sounds of my favourite record shops and hopefully get my filthy paws on a super limited translucent green 10” of the Ghostbusters Theme.
Last year while stood in the queue for hours researching other record shops on my mobile phone, I was struck at how poor some of these sites look on mobile devices. Most of my favourite independent record stores run excellent and comprehensive desktop websites, but almost all of them have ignored the mobile user.
This is a huge oversight. I spend half of my life in actual record shops and the other half browsing images of vinyl online. Surely for independent record shops, a big part of defending themselves against the threat of MP3 download and streaming sites would be making their ecommerce sites entirely accessible on all devices.
The biggest portion of the record buying market will be out and about on the streets this Saturday. They may not be online but they will have their mobile phones with them and there will be a significant amount of time stood around waiting. This is time where customers (me) will be idly browsing other record stores on their phones. Why not make it a much more pleasant experience by offering a responsive or mobile optimised site that may even lead to a few sneaky conversions.
So here’s a list of record stores that I would love to have better access to on a mobile device:
The biggest name in independent record stores, and where I spend far too much of my time, recently redesigned its entire website.
It’s a great looking site with gorgeous flat design, great navigation and powerful search functionality.
Unfortunately the mobile user has been completely ignored.
Product listings are even worse.
The slightly more dance & electronic London-based music specialist has an equally poor site.
It’s a similar story at Kingston based Banquet Records.
Just around the corner from our office, on Berwick Street is Sister Ray. A shop as intimidatingly dingy as it is in fact very helpful and terribly friendly.
Sister Ray doesn’t have a website. At all.
In a way I admire its steadfast refusal to adopt any post 1990 technology but then again it does run a hugely prolific Twitter account full of information and engagement.
The rest of the UK
I spent many of my formative years scurrying around the following Leeds based indie record shops. Unfortunately neither Jumbo nor Crash has a decent mobile presence…
I don’t think this has actually been updated since I was in my early-20s.
Great staff, great stock, terrible website.
Resident Records in Brighton is one of my favourite record stores in the country and a brilliant desktop site, however…
Bristol doesn’t have it any better either…
However it’s not all bad. London does have one record shop with a mobile optimised site:
Sounds of the Universe
In between Phonica and Sister Ray, just on the corner and probably less than half the size of its neighbours is this specialist record shop that operates a fine mobile site.
I like the welcome message that states its case clearly.
The navigation is clear and product images are large. Although price information would be handy on these listings.
The album product pages themselves are nicely detailed with clear calls-to-action.
There’s also a brilliant feature here where you can click on any track and it will stream the song for you immediately without opening a new window or app.
When purchasing a product, you can select in-store pick-up from the delivery options.
My only criticisms are that the search could be much improved. When I’m typing text it doesn’t bring up predicted results and auto-correct tends to take-over. Here is my search of ‘Todd Terje’.
Then when you come to pay for your goods, you’re taken through to a SagePay screen which makes it a nightmare to input your card details.
However, outshining Sounds of the Universe and all the other London record shops is Manchester based Piccadilly Records.
This is a beautifully designed mobile site.
Brilliant navigation, tasteful calls-to-action, excellent search with predictive results…
Excellent product listings that prioritises purchase options, although album information is just a scroll away. You can stream the individual tracks directly from the screen.
Nice big text entry boxes for entering your details and payment information, which is all done on the same screen.
Then finally a click-to-call option for any enquiries or in-store reservations.
It’s an excellent example of a traditional indie record store embracing new technology and making it easier for its customers to access products and information wherever they may be. It should definitely be held up as a benchmark for others.
Have a fun Record Store Day. I’ll be the one pushing you to the ground to get the last David Bowie 7” picture disc.