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As business’ borders become less defined and clients more varied, it’s key to be flexible and embrace all of the new cultures entering stores, according to Marigay McKee, Harrods’ chief merchant.
This story first appeared in the June 1, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The London-based luxury department store’s advertising slogan is: “Enter a different world.”
“It is really the sentence that defines our goals,” said McKee. “It’s what we strive to achieve, creating a point of difference, a store that has presence, has charm, has confidence and a universal taste level.”
Today, half of customers at Harrods — whose 4,300-square-foot beauty floor generated more than 100 million pounds, or $160.4 million at average exchange, last year — are from abroad.
“Because of this, we have had to change massively the way that we work to accommodate these new international travelers,” said McKee. “We have created lots of different incentives for these new customers — a gift-giving service for our Asian visitors, late-night shopping for the Middle Easterners who think it’s unacceptable to not be able to shop till 10 at night in the summer when they’re over [and] selling gold bullion for international travelers.”
Harrods has also been organizing activities, such as cocktail parties and fashion and beauty shows, and liaising with local embassies, consulates and foreign dignitaries.
“We host events with sports stars, film celebrities, cultural icons, global musicians, adding to the theater and activity expected and anticipated every day by those that make the pilgrimage to Harrods,” continued McKee.
Two years ago, the department store installed 75 China UnionPay terminals in its stores so Chinese consumers can use their credit cards and not worry about changing money.
“IPads are regularly available on most of the counters today with apps designed to enhance the commercial experience and the beauty offer,” she added. “The Internet, the launch of beauty Web sites galore, the bloggers…mean that the bricks-and-mortar experience needs to wow and exceed customer expectation ever more so.”
New technology has birthed new trends and items, as well.
“Products-to-go and beauty gadgets have become increasingly more pertinent and relevant to today’s consumers,” said McKee, adding such items have registered a huge sales rise.
High-level employee training programs (Harrods has a B.A. in sales linked to Cambridge University, for instance), exclusive products and consumer experiences and refurbishments are all part of the store’s arsenal.
McKee said if department stores were like schools (with sales associates as teachers and customers as pupils) in the Eighties, and more like hospitals (with sales associates as doctors prescribing to customer-patients) in the Nineties, they’ve become like homes and hotels today.
“Sales associates are hosts, the customers are our guests and we invite the guests to experience our hospitality and our brand with exceptional service,” she said. “As retailers, it is our job to nurture — never alienate, enhance — not detract, and understand our customers’ needs by listening to their desires, interpreting their dreams.”