The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
Music dot.coms have had the field to themselves for a long time, but the relatively recent arrival of High Street heavyweight HMV into the arena has shifted the balance of power considerably in one swoop. In particular, as this opinion is being written, hmv.co.uk has just undergone a redesign which has addressed many of the problems I raised in my original opinion.
In general, hmv.co.uk is the online arm of HMV, the record shop, selling identical products. As well as a vast selection of CDs, the site also prominently features DVDs, VHS tapes and to a lesser but growing extent, computer games. This wide array of goods makes the site an attractive option to many who may well find their entire entertainment needs catered for in this one site.
The website itself has benefitted immeasurably from the redesign. I originally criticised the site for its awful loading times and numerous security and payment problems, but these have all been addressed more than adequately. In fact, I would rank hmv.co.uk as one of the most impressive sites on the net. It's like one of those impossibly obese people you see on the WeightWatchers adverts that sheds thirty stones in three weeks. You just can't believe that something that was once so rubbish is now so cool.
It has a very clean and attractive look, using a simple white and blue colour scheme which doesn't force itself down your throat as many do. Browsing the site should be intuitive to most using the familiar navigation bar at the top of every screen (praise the Lord, the frames have gone), while the traditional layout of sub-contents to the left of the screen is also used. Put together this creates a very appealing site which I felt at home with after only minutes.
The key improvements made to the site are numerous, but of most interest to potential shoppers would be the inclusion of more obviously secure transactions. The site is VeriSign approved, a standard on the web, which should reassure those who like myself were a little wary of using what was originally a very rusty system. Personally, I now have every confidence in the site, encouraged by the funky little box popping up telling me I'm now operating across a secure connection.
The site is also now much faster to load, mainly down to the riddance of frames which were once the major downfall. Now loading only a single page every time (rather than the ludicrous number of yesteryear), you will notice a measured benefit over the old site. This works not only to the consumer's benefit - allowing you to get to where you're going quicker - but to HMV's as well, as customers are encouraged to browse longer when they feel they are getting a fast response from the site.
Being the online arm of HMV gives the site an enormous advantage through the huge back catalogue and stocks the company has access to. Only the most in-demand items tend to go out of stock, and it is a nice touch to see the site openly advertise this fact when they know an item is currently unavailable. Many e-tail music sites hide this fact from you until you have placed your order, when only then do you find you will have a three month wait until the item comes back into stock. At HMV it is made clear whether an item is in stock though a very prominent image next to each listing. This is a very nice touch which regular (or cynical) buyers will appreciate.
An understated addition is that of My HMV, a feature which packages together what used to be a number of different pages listing your account details, current orders and so on. This information is now available quickly and clearly after you have logged in to the site using your e-mail address and password. Your personal details can be viewed or modified, and a listing of current orders along with the facility to cancel it is available. This is all very clear and straigh-forward to use, especially compared to some of the other contrived efforts I have seen elsewhere.
The most important aspect though, as I'm sure you will agree, is the price. Fortunately, this is where hmv.co.uk comes into its own. The average price of a chart CD is nothing special, but this is not the strong point of the site. As an example, at the time of writing they are running a promotion where a number of older CDs are all priced at £5.99, and many older DVDs are available for under £10. For fans of older music or less well-known artists, this is a real boon because there are an enormous amount of artists included in the offers.
These special offers are always worth keeping an eye on for picking up those albums you've always wanted but never fancied paying full price for. Signing up for the newsletter which provides a very comprehensive listing of that is on offer is, I would suggest, a worthwhile effort.
As well as special promotions such as these, the price of rarer material is also very good. You can pick up a cracking steak there, and I have picked up a number of hard-to-find CDs through the site, which all arrived both promptly and at little expense (my kind of site...). With such a large catalogue of material at their disposal, HMV are a very good place to start if you are looking for something you wouldn't find on the High Street. Using their site is a lot like ordering a CD through one of their branches, only without the delay and embarassment of having to spell out your favourite Brazilian singer's first name.
Post and Packaging, the traditional "stick three quid on" clause that elevates the price of what you thought was a bargain, is very reasonable at HMV. Yes, others do offer it free, but five CDs only comes to £2.50 which is not all too bad. It is also worth mentioning that if they have to split your order due to items being out of stock, they will not add to the original P&P charge.
With all this in its favour, what could possibly be at fault with hmv.co.uk? Well, to be honest, very little. It is a vastly improved site, best treated as a musical database of obscure songs you can pick up on the cheap. There are a number of minor niggling points nonetheless.
The only other point worthy of mention is the fact that the listings of items is permanently fixed at twenty per page, so you can end up working through stupid numbers of pages where there are many items in a category. For example, there are hundreds in some popular groups, which would take a long time - possibly too long - to get through.
In general, hmv.co.uk is a very impressive site. As I mentioned, it is not the cheapest place on the net for chart CDs, but for those obscure items you've not found outside of America and the dreaded taxman, this site is currently one of the best operations around. A new design has much improved it, and it is well worth a look.