Shop Direct has so far been able to innovate more easily as a pure-play – free from the distraction of maintaining a costly store base – but the company admitted today that not having a physical presence to engage with customers could be a disadvantage in the future.

Speaking at RBTE 2015 Sam Barton, head of user experience at Shop Direct, acknowledged that as the role of the store evolves – as a collection point for click & collect and a way to engage physically with customers – then Shop Direct may find the advantages of being a pure play reduce.

But to date he revealed the company has enjoyed the freedom, and a fleet-of-foot model, to be able to transform itself into a customer-led operation that has adapted with speed to trends such as the shift by consumers to using mobile and tablets.

Barton revealed how in late 2011 as much as 90% of sales came via desktop computers but today this is less than 30%, with the vast majority of this derived from mobile and tablet devices. In such a fast-moving market, he said, Shop Direct has adopted a strategy of iterative changes.

This involves using data to show what is happening online, undertaking qualitative testing to understand why it is happening, and then employing quantitative testing (A/B and multi-variant) to test the group's various hypotheses. This testing and learning mentality is now fundamental to the business and ensures it stays on top of customer demands and changing behaviours.

Its innovative approach is also being driven by it tapping into the technology and contacts of its key IT partners, namely Oracle and IBM. "We look to sweat the partnership," he said, adding that Shop Direct also links up with start-ups who are focused on certain areas of expertise including Swogo, Somo, Cortexica and Cimagine.