I am writing this on a flight to New York heading for the NRF’s 100th Annual Convention. I’m well aware of the need to stay au courant with the sector - not least when writing for Retail Week - but my copy of the latest magazine had not arrived on my doormat before I left.

I am writing this on a flight to New York heading for the NRF’s 100th Annual Convention. I’m well aware of the need to stay au courant with the sector - not least when writing for Retail Week - but my copy of the latest magazine had not arrived on my doormat before I left.

Unenamoured by the prospect of squinting sans iPad at my mobile, I decided to try and buy a hard copy and did so eventually at a good old-fashioned CTN. I got rather wet and bad-tempered tracking it down. I shall prioritise Retail Week online from now on, printing out what, when and where I want.

Electronic magazines, newspapers and books are hungrily cannibalising print. In a recent report, PricewaterhouseCoopers says that US publishers favour ebooks because they “offer lower costs and higher margins than print” as “an ebook publisher does not incur inventory return costs that are typically associated with traditional print channels”. The rise of ebooks seems unstoppable; representing 3% of all US book sales in 2009, they had an estimated 7% in 2010.

But real shops and books can still score.

24 hours before leaving, I realised I’d forgotten to buy Zagat’s 2011 restaurant guide to New York - as essential a tome for this trip as Retail Week.

Too short notice for Amazon (and with no reader for a download) I sought a copy in Waterstone’s. No such luck. “Try Daunt, the travel bookshop on Marylebone High Street,” the helpful assistant said. And there I was fulfilled.

The French talk increasingly about “les distributeurs precisés”. These cannot just be defined by having specialist offers: Waterstone’s specialises in books but Daunt is a super-specialist.

Precision retailers also can’t just be defined by location (though proximity shops clearly target precise catchments). The real winners go far further: the Etoile du Mer fishmongers, who anchor the magnificent food halls in Narbonne, have just achieved their 30th successive Christmas of positive like-for-likes, despite the remorseless incursion of discounters, convenience stores, supermarkets and hypermarkets around their patch over the years. Magali and her team are simply the best: the freshest and widest choice of seafood, excellently served and open every day.

Precision engineering is, by definition, an exact science ensuring that complicated sets of parts operate at the right time and in the right place. Sophisticated analytics today make precision retailing just as much a science, adding the right goods at the right price to complete that time-honoured winning equation.

Retailers (and magazines) need to define, communicate and execute an unequivocally precise raison d’être; one to which their customers will loyally subscribe.

Michael Poynor managing director, Retail Expertise