Charles asked the chief executives at the event: "Would you say your business has so far been significantly disrupted by the internet". No one raised a hand.
In 12 years, Primrose.co.uk has grown to be the UK's largest online garden specialist. Charles said that industry stats suggest that little more than five per cent of garden retail is conducted online, compared to 40 per cent of electrical goods, and 95 per cent of his personal shopping.
Charles said that the online experience, although lacking in the ability to touch and feel a product, was vastly superior in many ways to that in a physical store. He cited the "enormous choice online, enabling customers to source exactly the product that was right for them, rather than relying on a narrow, curated choice in store, extensive online reviews that directly addressed customer concerns about product value, and the ferociously competitive prices online."
He suggested that these factors would continue to drive more garden customers online as the older garden centre demographic became more confident online.
Charles suggested that the best way for physical retailers to fight back would be to offer the same experience as online, via smartphone apps that allowed customers browsing in store to view product reviews of items they were inspecting instore, together with a more extensive product range available for home delivery.