Why high street electrical stores are so depressing

iPhone launch
The iPhone got people into high street stores, but not many products manage that

It's a depressing old world at the moment.

The combination of a global recession, swine flu, impending climate Armageddon and the continuing existence of OK Magazine are enough to make anyone feel down.

But if you fancy cheering yourself up a bit then we have the answer: pop along to your nearest high street (or more likely, retail park) electrical retailer.

Twenty minutes later you'll come out knowing two things: you'll never set foot in one of those shops again, and no matter how much your life sucks, you'll never be as depressed as the gurning faces behind the counter.

What the hell happened? The internet happened. In one fell swoop the retailers' margins were destroyed by the online merchants. Instead of customers, the big chains began to cater for people doing homework.

They don't go in to buy, they go into double-check that the Sony Bravia doesn't look crappy before ordering it online for 27% less.

We were in a couple of big chains' branches this week. The buildings, giant cathedrals of consumerism, were empty. The staff didn't pounce when we walked through the door; we had to chase them round the aisles and catch them in a giant net before they'd even speak to us.

Instead of tying us to a chair, shining a spotlight in our eyes and threatening to kill our entire family if we didn't take an extended warranty and every accessory going, they let us pay for our single purchase without even a murmur. And the stock…

Oh God, the stock.

It felt like East Germany in 1954, albeit with better lighting and daytime TV.

Tired displays, half-arsed product information sheets - in one of the branches, every single TV had the same dimensions listed, whether it was a 26" LCD, a 52" plasma or a cordless blender that had been stuck on the wrong shelf - and special offers that only a lunatic could think of as special, such as £699 for a TV that the manufacturer has already replaced with six newer versions and which smelled as if somebody had died inside it.

Don't get us wrong, we feel sorry for the staff, but the superstores' days are numbered.

With a few exceptions - John Lewis, say, or Marks and Spencer - technology isn't something you buy from the high street. It's something you look at in the high street while whipping out your mobile phone and finding the same thing for a fraction of the price, with free delivery.

It's a shame for the staff, a shame for the shareholders and in the long term, we suspect, it's a shame for us: for all their flaws the retailers could only hold so much stock, so choosing a hi-fi, TV or food processor was nice and simple.

Online, though, the range is limitless, the prices are all over the place and you can never be entirely sure whether you're looking at a really good deal or a website that's run by the Russian Mafia.

We might save 27% on a DVD player, but deciding what to buy and where to buy it takes six weeks and £700 of electricity. To paraphrase The Jam: that's home entertainment.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.