Clarity on what your business means to customers has never been more important, Retail Week conference delegates heard.

In a panel discussion on how to respond to the challenging trading climate, former Debenhams chairman John Lovering stressed that a business has to have a strong proposition and a reason to exist.

Too many retailers lose track of what the business actually means to customers and why it was launched in the first place, said Asos non-executive director Peter Williams: “Customers have so many options and if you can’t get across in a couple of nanoseconds what your proposition is all about they will go elsewhere.”

Staying true to your values is vital, added Starbucks UK and ROI MD Darcy Willson-Rymer. He said that when he joined the company at the height of the downturn, he fought off suggestions to add a small percentage of lesser quality coffee to its blend, as well reduce its minimum staffing count to one person from a minimum of two. “You have to stick to what you believe in,” he said. “You have to be clear on strategy and intent. Never take your eyes off the consumer.”