A focus on convenience is key for retailers, says Mark Newton-Jones, whatever the channel.

A focus on convenience is key for retailers, says Mark Newton-Jones, whatever the channel.

We all know today’s customer is much more demanding.

Shoppers require quality products and excellent value, but more than ever they are demanding that we present our products in better retail environments, be it on the high street, or through their PC, tablet or smartphone.

Whichever channel the customer wishes to use, we have to deliver the same brand values consistently and seamlessly.

As the expectations of customers change at pace, successful retailers need to adapt just as quickly. We all know plenty of examples of retailers that failed to evolve and sadly are no more. A major catalyst of this transformation is etail, a true game-changer in our industry. But where does that leave the traditional store?

You might expect me to say the store has no future. After all, I was running Shop Direct Group when in 2005 it sold 4.5 million sq ft of retail space to Associated British Foods, kick-starting Primark’s significant UK growth.

That was absolutely the right decision, and a pivotal moment in the transformation of our group into a leading internet and home shopping business, based on a compelling digital proposition. Primark refreshed those stores to a high standard and they’ve been a huge success.

When we bought the Woolworths and Ladybird brands in 2009 after the collapse of Woolies, it was interesting to discover that among the total of 800 or so stores there was a core group of 250 that made a 25% return on sales.

They weren’t right for us as our focus was on a digitally based business, but I was amazed no other retailer or entrepreneur came in as there was a viable business there to be created.

A few commentators have questioned whether the future of retail involves stores at all. This is nonsense. Without doubt there is a big role for retail stores in the future. Perhaps fewer stores, but better stores.

There are plenty of examples of great stores designed for the modern multichannel age - it just takes a walk down Regent Street to confirm that.

So if you were starting a retailer of scale today in the UK, how many stores would you need? Well 300 to 400 feels like the right number, which should cover adequately all the significant urban areas and out-of-town centres.

If we take the approach that stores have a bright future, what about online retailing? It’s easy to forget shopping online isn’t always that convenient.

It’s difficult for many customers to have to wait at home to accept a delivery, but that’s nothing compared with the complexity of returns.

Ironically as we trade increasingly online, the importance of convenience is increasingly being forgotten. After all, click-and-collect from an existing store is only convenient if you’re already planning a trip to the high street or out-of town-park.

The way we have dealt with this at Shop Direct is through Collect+, a network of more than 5,000 pick-up points, typically in independent, ‘8 til late’ stores.

That gives customers more locations to collect from and return to than any retail network ever could - 95% of UK shoppers are within a mile of a Collect+ point. It also helps drive footfall and incremental sales at the pick-up points too, so it’s a win win for all.

Today’s successful retailer has to take the view that it doesn’t matter how customers shop with them, as long as they do shop with them. And the way to do that is to surround them with choice in ways to shop that suit them, not that suit us.

  • Mark Newton-Jones, Shop Direct Group