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UK's premier tech street goes to seed

Tottenham Court Rd a shadow of former self

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This time last year, we took a walk up Tottenham Court Road, London W1, to see what the IT trends on the street were. Tottenham Court Road is, or was, considered to be the closest to an IT area that the UK has. While it's never been anything of a patch on say, the Akihabara area of Tokyo, even this time last year, walking up and down the short stretch between the tube station at Tottenham Court Road and Goodge St tube, and at right angles to Oxford Street, would give you a reasonable snapshot of the state of IT technology. What a difference a year's made. You'd expect, in the post-Christmas period, that there would be offers a-plenty on IT kit. But the street has gone way downhill over the last year. Not only has the number of shops selling IT kit declined, but fly-by-night stores seem to have cropped up in their place. And the shops which do sell IT kit all claim to have sales but the kit they're selling are far from being bargains. If you're looking for bargains or new kit in the Tottenham Court Road, you're going to need a pair of infravision spexs, to find out which pups they're trying to sell you. At something like 60 per cent of the stores we visited, there was old technology being sold as if it was new technology, both on the desktop and the notebook front. Want a Pentium II machine? No problem. These are being sold as if they're brand new. Going to buy a new notebook? Don't bother looking to the UK showcase for that either. A large number of the shops were selling defunct notebooks and in some cases from manufacturers who went down the pan quite some time back. What's worse, some of the PC shops which did use to have a reasonable supply of kit have disappeared, to be replaced by dubious looking outfits selling mobile phones or merchandise that's more suitable for the raincoat brigade than the techno-savvy customers that used to cruise this street. Tottenham Court Road is even less a PC paradise than it was this time last year. And that probably tells you most you need to know about the UK market. It looks as if making a margin as an independent PC dealer is harder than ever, with competition in the UK not only from large combines such as the Dixons group, but also pressure from people selling direct over the Internet. Rents in Tottenham Court Road are high, and while margins are low, it's going to be hard to make a living out of PCs. Far from being a showcase for the UK IT market, this street is now on its uppers. High prices, defunct technology and dubious bargains all point to one piece of advice -- avoid it. ®

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