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Posted on Fri 20th May, 2016 in: Industry Comment, Influence, Retail, Social Media by Emma Lister

I was taken aback recently by Notonthehighstreet which, after reaching its 10th anniversary as an online-only retailer, chose to celebrate its success with a pop-up store in a major shopping destination in London. In a special one-off event, #OpenDoor, the e-tailer brought over 300 products to Old Spitalfields Market across eight different zones, as well as experiential games and workshops. I wondered why, after 10 successful years in business as an exclusively online retailer, it has suddenly stepped foot into physical retail territory - going against everything it stands for as a brand and even its own name. Also, with the unfortunate news of two major high street retailers BHS and Austin Reed entering administration recently, the thought of potentially adding offline as part of its approach is surely quite unsettling? The company's Chief Executive, Simon Belsham, says the reason for their sudden interest in the high street is because he sees the future of retail as being neither online nor offline: more a combination of the two. But he promises that, as part of its future, the company "will continue to create experiences that are entirely different, both offline and online."? And I think #OpenDoor demonstrated this. The brand ensured that it was less about being a 'store' and more about an experience, and the theatre, demos and workshops helped give shoppers a real insight into the brand and brought some of the product ideas to life. The event itself also gave the business a chance to test the waters and see what their high street offering could look like - a great piece of market research. The event date was carefully chosen to fall outside of gifting season, so that the brand could appear as so much more than a gifting business and more of a retailer that offers experiences for shoppers. And the feedback seemed wholly positive. Consumers and brand owners alike shared their photos and engaged on social media, and it also got widespread media coverage with write-ups and interviews in the likes of The Guardian, This is Money and Retail Week. So far, the company's website, which offers gifts for almost every possible occasion, has carved a niche in the online retail market. Therefore, it's important that if the business does decide to move into physical retail, it doesn't forget its roots. Notonthehighstreet currently only lists new and emerging talent, to give shoppers something rare and exciting. For example, over the last 10 years it has helped 17 up-and-coming companies go from start-ups to making millions. It prides itself on working with businesses it can help to scale. But taking the brand offline onto the high street offers the temptation of working with bigger, more established brands that are already household names. This would take away the appeal of its gifting business, which prides itself on offering something that cannot be purchased anywhere else. It will be interesting to see what other developments are in the pipeline. Will Notonthehighstreet continue hosting more pop-up events and experiences or will it purchase its own retail space? It has already confirmed a link-up with Transport for London, where it will engage with new and expectant mums on the London transport network. Whilst the details are still yet to be announced, it is likely that the brand will use public transport to give consumers a channel to communicate with it in a physical way. Other partnerships are set to be announced soon as joint ventures become a more important area for the brand's marketing strategy. I look forward to hearing about what its next move will be.

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