Online sales and the disruption from digital are being overstated and retailers should instead place more of a focus on their physical estates, which will continue to be the fundamental component for shoppers in the future.

This was the view given by Terry Duddy, non-executive director of Debenhams and former CEO of Home Retail Group, when speaking at RBTE 2016 on day two: "The fastest growing online channel in the UK market is Click & Collect which involves the store being central to the transaction. The store is growing in importance but is being neglected and misunderstood."

He cited research from Conlumino that showed the percentage of online sales had almost doubled from 7.3% to 13.1% between 2009 and 2014, but that it was forecasted to only increase to 16.7% over the five years to 2019.

"Retailers are enjoying the benefits of online growth but it's rather disappointing. Digital disruption has slowed somewhat...but by 2020 stores will be the focus for 87% of all retail sales from either transactions in-store or from collect from store for online orders," said Duddy.

He added that partly on the basis of the way the media so positively reports online sales "customers think online is bigger than it is and this is then reflected in the way retailers are thinking".

In contrast, there is a perception that physical space is being reduced as the high street struggles to compete against the online channel and pure-plays. Duddy quoted research from property consultants PMA showing retail space had grown 19% over the last 15 years and although there was a plateauing in recent years there is still growth in the market.

"The media says there are lots of stores closing and this is true regarding some challenged locations but retailers have been closing smaller stores while opening bigger units in prime shopping centres," he suggested.

He therefore said it was no great surprise that pure-plays were recognising the value of physical stores with Amazon among others opening its first outlets. "How do you beat Amazon? Stores are the advantage many retailers have but it depends how they use them. City analysts will come around to this way of thinking as things play out over the next four to five years," argued Duddy.