Philippa Latimer attends an audience with retail royalty.
Early last week, my moment finally arrived. After months of colleagues telling tales of their encounters with HRH Queen of Shops, it was my time to be in the same room as Mary Portas. Excited? Palpably so. It's a young retail property public affairs professional's dream come true.
As it turned out, I was not alone in wanting to catch a glimpse of the lady charged with reviving our nation's high streets. Over in House of Commons Committee Room 9, some 40 or so MPs had gathered to pick the guru's brains.
After initial statements from Minister Ed Davey and HRH MP herself, the merry band of MPs, representing high streets from Newmarket in the East to Redruth in the South West, fired question after question at the consultant and her business partner Peter Cross.
Some of the politicians came with examples of local best practice, keen to see these and their high street promoted by the report. Others came with desperate images of decline, anxious to receive the elixir of high street revival.
Mary's final report is due out towards the end of November/beginning of December. Prior to this, Mary has been keen to resist the temptation to confirm (or deny) proposals likely to be contained within. Last week's meeting was no different. She certainly alluded to the role of enhanced BIDs, the need for stronger rights for Local Authorities to seize empty/derelict commercial property, a rates rebate for new businesses, and a cap for the number of charity shops. However, none of the above is set in stone.
Pick me up.
Mary's most interesting remarks came when discussing the need to re-align the fortunes of the high street with those of online retail. Is it possible that online retail, often seen as the enemy of high street shops, could really be a key part of the remedy? Mary thinks so.
Right now, ASOS, Amazon and Net-a-Porter are all looking for property on the high street. Consumers, unable to sit at home awaiting the delivery of their products, are keen for an easily accessible location to collect their purchases. One New Change already houses lockers for Amazon, and in the US Amazon has installed lockers across the 7-eleven convenience store portfolio. Houseoffraser.com will this month open two online order collection only stores in Union Square, Aberdeen and Liverpool One.
Mary believes that the evolution of these click and collection points is of paramount importance for the high street. The act of coming "into town" to collect products at a collection point will mean that consumers will have to begin to engage with their shopping centres/high streets again. This engagement, Mary believes, is utterly crucial.
I think she's right. So right in fact that I am considering registering the domain www.pipmeup.com - watch this space for all your click and collect needs at an easily accessible location near you.