Shopkeepers should stop complaining about competition from the internet and look to it for ideas, Sarah Curran, founder of my-wardrobe.com, says in her latest FT column.

“I remember vividly a retailers’ conference in Dusseldorf, which was filled with many of the UK’s leading high street names. The buzzword was ‘the customer’. I wondered what their priority was before that,” she says provocatively.

Ms Curran started her business with a boutique in London’s Crouch End. I knew who my customer was, she says, because I was the customer and I knew the retail experience I expected. But moving on-line in 2006 she had to work out how to replace face-to-face contact.

On-line retailers have to create “stickiness” so that the experience is engaging. They do this by using aspirational photoshoots, editorial features and video content. The internet and social media offer many exciting ways of doing this.

In contrast the high street can “often seem flat”, Ms Curran says. “Bland, stark and poorly lit changing rooms are not the right surroundings…” “Dreadful queues just make matters worse.”

Local retailers should read this column for two reasons:
1. It may provoke you into improving your shop and the customer experience you offer.
2. It may give you an idea how you can build an on-line business – or use social media to complement what you already do.

The main thing is to avoid thinking that it can’t happen to my business or that top-up grocery shopping, on-the-go treats and eating, or picking up a newspaper is not under threat from imaginative start ups working in the virtual world. Because one day soon, it just might happen.