We spoke to Nick Brackenbury, co-founder of new company NearSt, which has been making the news for bringing convenience back to physical stores. Their book-locating and delivery service allows you to search nearby shops for the book you’re after and have it delivered to you within an hour. We asked him about the company’s conception, their behemoth competitor Amazon and his favourite books.
1. NearSt is a new company focused on bringing business back to physical shops, operating on the belief that buying from real shops in your city should be more convenient than ordering from an online retailer. What experiences led to the formulation of this idea and how did you get NearSt off the ground?
It came from a personal experience of my co-founder Max, trying to find something in a shop nearby (a lightbulb, of all things). It was easy to find in a warehouse hundreds or even thousands of miles away from an online shop, but trying to find and buy it in a real shop just down the road was almost impossible. Today, our smartphones have no idea what’s in the shops around us, yet they are the devices we go to in order to find (and buy) almost everything. As a result, the local shops right on our doorstep suffer, as they bizarrely are no longer the most convenient option.
We got NearSt off the ground at first by biking in and out of hundreds of real shops all over London, talking to shop owners and learning about how they worked, and the challenges they faced. Off the back of this we built a mini shop in our office to figure out how we could work with the tools already in stores, and from this the first version of NearSt was born.
2. In a recent Guardian article, they have you on record saying that you are “absolutely” out to challenge Amazon, prompting hundreds of us to give you our full attention. What fundamental aspects of your company do you think will best carry this claim?
There is incredible value locked up in the local shops that line our high streets; all the more so when you look at them as a connected network. The diversity of products they stock, the fact that there are tens of thousands of shops spread all over the city. Why wait days or even hours for a delivery when there is almost certainly a shop within a few hundred metres that has exactly what you want, right now? With real shops you also get a level of expertise and service that you miss online – reviews are a nice part of the buying process, but they don’t match the one-to-one advice of a shopkeeper who’s sold that one type of product all their life.
3. You’re currently collaborating with several bookshops. Are you planning on expanding to the delivery of other products? If so, how will this service differ from that for books?
Our ultimate goal is to have every product, in every shop, on every high street available on NearSt so that you can truly find and buy something from a shop nearby, faster and more easily than ordering it online. We’re working really hard at the minute on adding half a dozen new shop categories to NearSt, covering everything from consumer electronics to health and beauty products. Watch this space later this year as we roll them out!
4. How do NearSt prices compare to ordering the same books off Amazon? What would you say to someone who uses Amazon as a default shopping destination?
The prices on NearSt are exactly as priced in the local shops – we don’t mark them up in any way. We’re not trying to “price-fight” with online retailers, as ultimately our proposition is on unmatched convenience and speed. What’s more, our results already show that people are willing to pay a small premium for this.
No one likes those little red “while you were out” missed delivery slips on their doormat, and the ensuing 10 mile trek to their nearest post office delivery depot. Suddenly the 50p saved by ordering online doesn’t seem like such good value…
5. What are your top three favourite books?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (For making a grey, bleak world completely captivating)
One Day by David Nicholls (For a fun narrative approach to a traditional Greek tragedy)
Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein (For a fascinating look at ourselves as human beings)
(I realise these three couldn’t be much more different from one another if they tried – haha!)