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Opinion: Don't just sell brands - become one says David Rogers of Pure

David Rogers

The online v offline shopping war continues to rage and it’s safe to say both sides have their place. The online shopping experience is about convenience and while online retailers continue to make it easy to return goods that don’t fit as we thought or don’t meet our expectations of quality, they’ll continue to increase their market share.

So the real question is what are physical stores doing to stay relevant? You can try before you buy, but that may not be enough to save the high street. To stand out, bricks and mortar stores need to sell an experience.

I think eventually we’ll see retailers using technology to target consumers with personalised shopping suggestions when they enter stores, possibly by storing information electronically on clothing tags. It will pretty much work in the same way as online operators work now using personalised retargeting, where a product you viewed appears on other pages as you surf. However, this is currently a long way off.

So, which companies should be held up as a shining beacon of high street retailing at the moment? Urban Outfitters creates a funky environment for shoppers, using wall art and unusual elements. It is not just selling brands but presenting itself as a brand. For me, that is the secret to retail success.

Creating an experience is crucial to meet consumer demand. There is no doubt customers expect more for their money today. Not just because they have less to spend, but because they are being educated to expect more through competition. The ongoing supermarket price wars are an example of education in action.

Everything that I’ve outlined above has been used to influence Pure’s own venture into retail – The Collectorium.

When I opened the store, I took the approach that I had to offer something unique - goods and decor inspired by moments from the past 60 years, including original 1980’s BMX’s, a Swatch watch collection, 50’s film posters and wall-mounted penny slots. Pretty much everything in the shop can only otherwise be found online. We also secured the license to be sole dealer of Autentico chalk paints in Nottingham, which gives us another point of difference.

Going back to my retail buzzword, the other key thing was to create an experience. Entering The Collectorium, shoppers are not sure what to expect. Better still, they always walk away surprised. The Collectorium offers brand new quirky items alongside vintage collectables. We try to source new items that complement the collectables side of the business. For example, we now stock a range of retro style metal robots.

We also look for things made in small numbers, by individuals. We want to maintain a unique feeling to the shop so people feel they are really buying into something. We also want to make the human relationship part of our story. The shop is run by someone who can answer questions about the products and give advice, which personalises the shopping experience per customer.

A savvy businesswoman I met on the train several years ago said, "make the customer want to be part of you". It’s great advice I’ve tried to apply ever since and many high street retailers could benefit from applying that rule too.

David Rogers is director of Pure