A visit to Loaf, the sofa and bed retailer, does much to highlight why online retailers that head for the high street are doing things right, says John Ryan.

Sitting among the hopefuls at last week’s Retail Week Awards, it was hard not to reflect on the changing nature of retail in the UK.

Excluding the prize for Outstanding Contribution to Retail (well done, Sir Malcolm), around a third of the gongs that were handed out were for outfits that have no physical stores.

Some would say that this is the way of the world and it goes a long way towards explaining the much-talked-about ‘retailgeddon’ on our high streets. Yet a visit to beds and sofa outfit Loaf would do much to refute this view.

The store in question is in London’s Spitalfields and has been open for a little under a year, replacing a Ted Baker that was pretty ‘out there’ in terms of store design.

Loaf, for those who don’t know about it, is an online operation that has a handful of shops (or ‘shacks’, as the retailer refers to them) – three in London and one in Guildford, with three more set to welcome shoppers this year.

Top dog

Walking into this one with Angus, the family West Highland white terrier, we were immediately greeted in a relaxed but friendly manner; and when it came to test-driving a sofa, Angus was encouraged to see if he liked it as well.

Alex, the member of staff who was guiding us towards making a choice, knew his stuff, pointing out the ups and downs of the various fabrics that could be used for each sofa.

“It was the mix of product knowledge, service that was in no way slick, and a range that you could touch and feel that convinced”

At no point was there the sense of ‘buy, buy, buy’, and if an option wasn’t on view, he immediately showed what it would look like by reference to the website.

In total it was a pleasure to be in and the chances are that a purchase will follow – which is a tough call in the current climate where big-ticket sales are hard to come by.

It was the mix of product knowledge, service that was in no way slick, but which made you feel at home and unpressured, and a range that you could touch and feel that convinced.

This may be an online retailer that only opened its first shack in 2015, but the proposition has been thought through and, to judge by the number of other shoppers in the store, it is getting its message across.

More terrestrial-based retailers could do a lot worse than take a look at this one and seeing why it appears to be working offline as much as online.