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Focus on customer experience to win over millennials, says Mary Portas

The customer experience will overtake product as the biggest differentiator on the high street by 2020, retail guru Mary Portas told delegates at personalisation software provider Monetate’s European Summit 2016 in London last week.

Speaking as part of a line-up that included JD Williams’ group ecommerce conversion rate optimisation manager Finn Christo, the chief creative director and founder of creative communications agency Portas said “millennials are spending on experiences rather than ‘stuff’”.

Portas noted Selfridges as a positive example of creating theatre instore, versus the likes of Marks & Spencer. “I think their [M&S] product is actually really good. It’s the experience where they need to focus.”

She added that “digital is part of the everyday” for this audience now, and that retailers need to find ways to better “connect technology with retail; where the brand is a social experience, where the brand lives”.

Portas began her career at John Lewis, Harrods and Topshop before joining Harvey Nichols aged 28 and progressed to its board in 1989 as creative director. There she helped transform the in-store experience by bringing in new designers, promoting the department store through 90s comedy TV series Absolutely Fabulous, and by installing a bar area on its fifth floor to create a social hub. “There was no marketing strategy, there was instinct,” she said.

“The shift in experience has to go back to bricks-and-mortar,” said Portas, noting that what Apple did “is they created a brand reality, not just an image” and that John Lewis has built its brand on “trust, knowledge, experience and service”.

For more insight into personalisation strategy, look out for Drapers’ August 5 personalisation issue, produced in association with Monetate.

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