Ms Portas told delegates attending the annual Co-operative Congress in Birmingham at the weekend that, if the Co-op didn’t trumpet its brand values in a more aggressive manner, others would seek to fill the gap.
She is currently reviewing the decline of the English high street on behalf of the Government, received a warm welcome at Congress after being introduced by the former Head of Marketing at CWS, Burt Cross.
“I am fascinated by the Co-op Movement, but you are not shouting enough about your ethical credentials,” declared Ms Portas. “It’s your most important selling point and as a consumer, I’ll happily pay a premium for ethically produced goods. But I need to know about it — and if you don’t do it, the big boys will.”
During her presentation and subsequent question and answer session, Ms Portas also suggested the Movement should adopt a symbol to let the public know what the business represents — a view that prompted a few delegates to call from the floor for the return of the traditional Co-op ‘cloverleaf’ logo.
And in a reference to the old “Caring, Sharing Co-op” slogan devised by Mr Cross during his time at CWS, Ms Portas said that caring and connecting with people is crucial in today’s retailing environment, which had been radically altered by both the environmental debate and by the recent economic crisis.
“Change is the most fundamental thing we all have to do and the biggest change has come in understanding that the consumer has changed,” declared Ms Portas. “Unless you understand how consumers have changed, you can’t create modern, successful businesses.
“The bubble has burst,” she added. “Consumers now question where they are spending their money and ask if they are getting good value. Specialism is important: you need to know what you are selling. And the shopping experience is vital, too. You must create a suitable atmosphere.”
While Ms Portas admitted that the out of town shopping model was “a great option” she said it was now being realised that local communities had been compromised as a result.
“We’ve sacrificed communities for convenience,” she said. “But high street shopping still has a big future, providing we build a business model that’s relevant to today’s world. It’s about high streets being one and behaving as one.
“People need to be empowered to create a new business model, but it’s not in the big companies’ interests not to have to have the smaller operator on the high street as well as they help attract shoppers. High streets are certainly losing their individuality and we definitely need a mix of big and small.”
• To view pictures from this year’s Congress, click here.