Meeting Mary Portas and the Importance of Experience in Retail

I recently had the opportunity to meet the fabulous Mary Portas at an Entrepreneur’s Circle event run by Nigel Boterill. Of course, I knew Mary from TV but I must admit, I didn’t exactly know much about her story and how she found herself being crowned Mary Queen of Shops.

One day after the Young and Mighty book launch I wasn’t exactly in the mood to get out of bed at six in the morning but I knew this was something worth getting up for!

A bubbly, energetic Mary Portas took to the stage (with on point hair may I add!) In five years of retail I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with such passion and dedication towards it. In a world of easy access to our favourite brands online, it’s very easy for all of us, me included, to be led into an obsession of online shopping. Mary talks a lot about the successes and mistakes that all retailers are making today.

I have always believed that all high street stores need to have a story and sense of theatre behind them. If they don’t, why spend the time going out in person when we could just buy our desired product with a few clicks? What many retailers don’t understand is customers go out to a shop for an experience. If products are stacked on shelves under a bright light, that’s no experience. I use an example of this in the book.

Imagine the latest phone has just come out and two stores have it in stock for exactly the same price. One of them has the phone shoved on a shelf with a hand written price sticker on under no light. The other is under a spotlight, in the eye of the customer, complemented by a stunning display. Customers need experience, they need excitement, but they can’t make it for themselves! Retailers need to give it to them. It’s not just about the visual experience, but physical as well. It’s great to have beautiful premises with great products, but a beautiful shop with great products is still just a building, a shell. It’s only when you add the element of people that it becomes a shop.

A shop can’t function without people, it can’t succeed without good people. These are the people that know their business inside out. Whether it be a market stall or department store, you and your team need to know your business like the back of your hand. The strange thing is that in that whole paragraph, nothing that I just said was something that you didn’t know. We all know how we like to shop. We all know that we want helpful staff, a nice environment, an all round EXPERIENCE.

This is the reason it’s strange. We all know the information yet businesses still fail to use it! The more effort you put into something the more you get out of it, that’s what we hear a lot. I have no doubt that businesses who don’t give customers experience put tons of effort into the ‘behind the scenes’ of their business. I have no doubt that their filing cabinets are impeccably organised and that their stock room is colour coded, but customers can’t see that! If you only want to put tons of effort into ONE thing in your business. It should be experience! I keep coming back to this word. Why? It’s the most important thing.

Stay mighty!


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