LONDON — The changing definition of luxury — is it a thing? an experience? a feeling? — was the focus of this year’s Global Department Store Summit, a biennial conference for the retail community held this year in London.
The theme of the two-day meeting, which wraps on Friday, is “The Power of Luxury Redefined,” and speakers on Thursday included Anne Pitcher, managing director of Selfridges; Tammy Smulders, president of Vice fashion and luxury group, and Raymond Cloosterman, chief executive officer of Rituals Cosmetics.
Pitcher said traditionally, the idea of luxury included fast cars, diamonds and bottles of Dom Perignon, but the definition has changed.
Some speakers said luxury means rarity, while others defined it as an experience. Smulders noted that 62 percent of Millennials would rather spend money on a luxury experience and only 11 percent of those surveyed by Vice would spend it on designer fashion.
Retailers need to target their strategies to new demographics, such as the Millennial and Gen Z consumer, said Rajesh Agrawal, deputy mayor of London for business. “This new generation has new expectations, new values and a new lifestyle and this forces us to rethink how we do our business model.”
Pitcher said the idea of experiential retail is not new, and retailers need to up the ante with continued innovation. “Personalization two years ago was a really exciting idea, but today it has to be far more robust than just putting your initials on the front of a handbag,” said Pitcher.
To fulfill these expectations, Pitcher said she sees department stores as being “place makers. We must build communities and cultivate the neighborhoods around our stores where people can live, work and play as they want to.”
Selfridges has sponsored the artwork on the new London Underground entrance at Bond Street, and has also designed the newest phase of its accessories hall in tune with all of the urban development going on in the neighborhood. Greeting visitors in the store’s new Duke Street entrance, there’s also a sculpture inspired by the giant digger from the Crossrail project, and the construction of the new Elizabeth Line, which will open at the end of the year.
Selfridges created a concept shop with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on Oxford Street and Duke Street, virtually dissolving the barrier between store and street. The store has also planted trees on Duke Street.
Smulders said “branded retail stores need to become cultural embassies where people can find the kinds of products that can express their personality.” She also noted that luxury can no longer be exclusive.
“You’ll need to create something that makes consumers feel intimate, that doesn’t make them feel like they’re in a huge place, but rather a place that they can explore and find their own personal niche.”
While much has been said about the retail landscape and its demise, speakers were quick to dismiss the idea. “The truth is, stores that do not invest in product range, innovation, online and creating amazing experiences will not survive,” said Pitcher, ending the summit on a practical note.
The sixth edition of the summit was held at the Queen Elizabeth II conference center in Westminster. A series of awards, including Best Department Store in the World, will be given out Thursday night at a dinner at the V&A.