Harrods to focus on retail theatre to lure shoppers as luxury retail changes fast
Retailers need to latch onto the trend for in-store ‘theatre’ and experiences, and to focus on their USPs or risk falling behind in a fast-changing fashion sector. That’s the view of Harrods boss Michael Ward who said the luxury department store is taking a deep dive into in-store experiences is successfully appealing to global Millennials by focusing on what’s unique about the store.
Ward was speaking at the Millennial 20/20 conference in London last week. He said that the the “high street has lost its way” and that what people want now is “the exceptional.”
Exceptional for Harrods means a mix of experiences, product and service. “For us those are three simple things,” he said. “We have the most amazing emporium for product, the most amazing products, and we have the most amazing service. And as part of everything we do now, we have an experience. We make it so that it's almost theatre, that makes people really want to come to Harrods and just experience that ‘exceptional’.”
That can mean some unexpected experiences such as the still-new TechnoGym, the recent last-minute Dolce & Gabbana show that was staged in the meat and fish hall, or the Vetements collab that saw the cult label piling up unused and unwanted clothes in Harrods’ windows.
The focus here was the fashion sector’s over-production and the damage it’s doing to the planet (more than 30% of fashion production is never used and ends up in landfill sites). The clothes on display were donated by Harrods employees and were then given to children’s charity the NSPCC. Harrods also had a clothes bank in-store where shoppers could donate more clothing.
“We have no rights [over customer attention] whatsoever,” Ward added. “So we have to make sure that we become relevant.”
Referring to the money Harrods is planning to spend as part of a mega-millions investment in the Knightsbridge store, Ward said that it’s all about transforming the retailer to meet the needs of modern customers.
“We're just about to spend £200 million changing from what we've previously done to something that stretches the boundaries, that makes you feel differently about us as a brand.,” he said. That spend will include physical remodelling of the store but also changed mindsets among staff.
This should result in engaging more actively with customers and not always just selling them what they think they want. “We want you to come in with something in mind and be challenged by a stylist who might say, actually you’ll look really cool in this. And you’d never thought about it,” Ward stressed. “That, particularly for men is very important. It's that ability to say if you went to Cucinelli or Loro Piana, you'd look amazing."
Thinking differently starts before the product even gets to the shop floor. “When our buyers go out buying I actually ask them switch off the merchandise management system. I want them to be totally creative to buy the very best, something that they know the customer is really going to want,” Ward explained.
And that customer is increasingly Millennial-aged and not from the UK.
Ward said that he’s “really, really enthusiastic about the next five years,” as he thinks the team can make Harrods totally relevant to a changing customer. The store “over-indexes by 33% on Millennials” so it’s clearly reaching the age group that everybody wants to target these days. And it does well with international customers too.
“We can create amazing experiences, we can go to other parts of the world and we believe we can engage those customers in ways that would give them a need to come back again and again,” Ward insisted.
But he added a warning for those with less of a strong USP: “We can do it online, we can do that in different mediums. Just as long as it’s different and unique you'll succeed, but if you want to be in the mainstream it's going to be tough.”
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