As online-only stores seek to establish a physical presence in retail, the importance of staying on top of the latest technology should not be forgotten.

Many online companies are thinking about opening physical stores. In fact,, one of the leading lights in the online-only tech scene, of which I am chair, has a very successful store in Boxpark in the heart of Shoreditch, east London.

Even Amazon, the behemoth of online is getting in on the store game, opening a bookshop in Seattle. Before you rush to take your friendly commercial landlord (oxymoron!) out for a drink, I think it is worth taking stock of what is happening.

Clearly this is an exciting time in retail and an exciting phase of technology adoption, and where these two trends overlap is going to be at the forefront of change in the industry.

For those who do not embrace this, life is going to be tough. It’s tough enough already but it is going to get a whole lot worse.

Online continues to grow with more and more companies trying to get their share of the £350bn retail market in the UK.

In China Alibaba notched up more than £9bn of sales on Singles Day this week. Clear business models are winning. In fact, the clearer the better.

Building a retail store proposition that matches your brand aspirations is key. With certain categories the in-store experience being a physical representation of the brand helps. For many propositions, such as Amazon, it may be simply having an accessible place for click-and-collect that is key.

Collecting data

Data analysis is an under-funded area for a lot of retailers. Collecting first and then using customer data in a way that drives real insight into customer journeys or the understanding of your brand can help to link this online world with offline. Data analytics has become a disruptive industry.

Many new companies are looking to enhance the online and offline relationship. At the recent Retail Recharged conference, two innovative companies struck me as interesting in the way in which they are helping the industry to understand the in-store proposition. is a location analytics platform designed to help retailers grow footfall and become more productive, and offers expertise in micro-location, bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds.

So how do we keep our finger on the pulse of this technology revolution? Spend time with entrepreneurs, find out their motivations and pain points to determine if your business can help them or partner with them in any way. You will learn and they will gain a valuable customer.

Many elements you don’t need to build yourself anymore. For example, companies like have developed simple plug-and-play SaaS (software as a service) solutions to manage in-store appointments that they take online. Perfect for those who make larger purchases and don’t want to wait for somebody to become available.

The role of the start-up, if it is worth its salt, is to disrupt and eat the lunch of established retailers. Maybe they could help to find a solution for all of that physical retail space while they’re at it.

  • Simon Calver, chairman at and former Mothercare chief executive