Pureplays should focus on eCommerce, says Peter Williams

While a number of pureplays are opening traditional brick and mortar stores, Boohoo.com’s non-executive chairman, Peter Williams, believes this can cause pureplays to divert from their winning online strategies.

Williams – who has experience as former CEO of Selfridges and NED at Asos, as well as currently sitting on the boards of a number of digital companies – pointed to the trend of pureplay retailers opening physical stores, but said this model will not be appropriate for all eCommerce companies.

“At Asos and Boohoo pureplay is absolutely the focus on what we do on the internet and mobile and having stores complicates it,” he said. “You can always open stores later – there will always be premises available. But you need everybody’s effort and energy focused on that and opening stores is a diversion.”

Williams admitted pureplays such as Made.com, Loaf.com and Sofa.com all benefit from a physical presence. “For some products it certainly helps to sit on the sofa or see the kitchen table before you make the purchase – but I don’t think it adds up to a lot of physical stores.”

Speaking on stage at Etail Europe in London, he described how 20 years ago fashion retailers would aim to open 200-300 stores to be considered as having UK-wide coverage. “But now you only need 100 plus a website and those 101-300 retailers are starting to feel it.”

He said these retailers with larger store estates are now having to reinvent themselves as leisure destinations.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “People generally enjoy the social aspect of going out to shop. They do it with friends or family and it’s going to be something they continue to want to do.”

He also pointed in the changing attitudes to online fulfilment, describing how when he moved from Asos to Boohoo.com he came across a different type of shopper – a younger, 16-24 year-old, fast-fashion addict.

“I was quite surprised that on a Thursday night a girl buying a dress for £15 would happily pay a further £3-5 to deliver it the next day, because she’s deciding what to wear on Friday.”

He said this next-day delivery option is not appropriate for all categories. “But the fact is that it’s moving so fast and online you merchandise by items, not by a range of products which changes the way people behave and look at what’s available – it’s so exciting from a customer point of view because there’s something new every day.”