The arrival of Simply Be on the high street shows that the online merchants view the high street as a source of revenue.

The arrival of Simply Be on the high street shows that the online merchants view the high street as a source of revenue.

Of late there have been any number of prophets informing us that in future we’ll need fewer shops on the high street and that more people will shop online. There have even been those who have been taking a stab at working out just how many shops is appropriate for commercial success in this brave new multi-channel age.

Oddly, no two accounts of what is to come are the same and numbers vary from little more than a handful to in excess of a couple of hundred.

What has not been seen with quite the same frequency are the pundits who say that the online world will invade the bricks and mortar domain. And logic might seem to say that there is little point spending money designing a new retail interior, creating a supply chain for the stores and then paying rent on top of it if you already have a perfectly good online operation.

Yet on Friday, N Brown plus size brand Simply Be opened a standalone store in Liverpool One and if you’d wanted to see how an online operation translated to the high street might appear, this was an object lesson. The shop has, as might be expected, internet kiosks, large flatscreens, small flatscreens and if you want things delivered to your home which are not in the store, then this is catered for as well. There also happened to be a pretty good-looking shop, one that should do well for the 89% of plus size customers who still persist in shopping the high street instead of a computer terminal.

This was that happy breed of new world store, a shop that bridges the gap between the real and virtual worlds. So perhaps we might now ask the question, how many shops does a virtual operator need to become a force on the high street? In the case of Simply Be, the answer according to the N Brown chief executive is around 25 – being the number that will give a reasonable coverage of all the major shopping centres and key high streets.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this Home Retail operation takes to the bricks and mortar world, just as New Look announces its intention to institute fashion retail’s most extensive click and collect operation. What is evident from all of this is that hard and fast rules about which channel, how many shops and where to open up are about as hard to come by as they have always been.

If you need to read more about the Simply Be store, by the by, it’s in Retail Week this Friday, or you can sign up for the stores newsletter here.