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Secret Shopper: Selfridges - Manchester: 1, London: 0

Tom Shearsmith
13 May 2022 recently visited Selfridges Manchester and London department stores, looking at how the shopping experience, retail environment and customer journey differs between two cities.

In recent years, Selfridges has been at the heart of cutting edge retail innovation and strong customer experience. With the sale of the upscale department store group having been confirmed just before Christmas 2021, the future of the business is shrouded in mystery but optimism.

“There are no hard times for good ideas.” So said Selfridges founder Harry Gordon Selfridge and never has a sentiment felt more resonant than now.

The Selfridges Group portfolio currently comprises of 18 leading department stores, including Selfridges in London, Manchester and Birmingham, de Bijenkorf in Netherlands, Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland, their associated e-commerce platforms and the properties in London, Manchester and five locations in Ireland. We'll be looking exclusively at Manchester and London.


The Windows & Entrance

You know a Selfridges when you see one - be it the huge signage or the grandeur.

The Manchester store is connected to the Arndale Shopping Centre in Manchester City Centre, referred to as Exchange Square. Surrounded by luxury retailers including Burberry, Hugo Boss and Canada Goose, the department store is positioned perfectly to attract tourists, wealthy consumers and those making a rare expensive purchase.

The historic flagship London department store is located on Oxford Street, which has been at the centre of London’s most famous shopping street for over 100 years. The building itself is grand, luxurious and visually appealing even before entering the store - the huge windows serve as the perfect advertisement for its products, pop-ups and Christmas season.

Both locations feature a doorman, who greets guests at the entering and leaving the locations - pleasant without being overbearing, it's the a great way to inform customers of the experience they will receive inside.

The Store-fit & Displays

The Manchester and London department stores both present a luxury space and atmosphere, with Manchester opting for a more modern approach and London focusing heavily on its ornate and historic building.

The London store has a much larger area to work with, including a currently un-utilised Selfridges Hotel area. The flagship features a ground floor rotational pop-up area, which at the time featured a fashion showcase in partnership with Paco Rabanne. The space is completely transformed each time to reflect the pop-up and is a reflection of the dedication and effort Selfridges put in to these experiences.

Selfridges Paco Rabanne pop-up

The Service

The best way to describe the service is at both Selfridges is ritzy - you aren't made to feel like you don't belong in-store, which is a problem often spoken about with other luxury department locations. Every customer appears to be important.

In Manchester I was perhaps given a lot more of a warm welcome, my needs were attended to much quicker and the overall experience was smoother. That's not to say that London wasn't great but Manchester was more warmly, perhaps.

Moving between departments, I was approached much more in the beauty department than in fashion, perhaps due to the eagerness of brand ambassadors and sales assistants in beauty. The key difference between the beauty experiences in Manchester and London however was the sound level - the space that beauty is located in the London flagship is very open which means sound travels far and key parts of conversations can be missed.

Whilst I found my service in Manchester faultless, the only improvement to the service in London would be that sales assistants could take a little more time to understand me and what I'm looking for (such as clothing fit, or my skincare routine), as it became a little clear that I was taking up valuable potential sales time.

The Products

The product selection is vast. Selfridge's London department store focuses slightly more on the average tourist, offering a large selection of London-focused (but elegant) gifts. Everywhere you turn you're presented with well-presented examples of high-end and luxury fashion, beauty and even homeware.

Manchester menswear aesthetic seemed a little more focused on trendy streetwear than London's menswear selection, although you could still find your luxury staples such as Dior, Burberry and Gucci.

Both locations offer a personalised wrapping service for purchases (up to a certain size), wrapping items in its signature yellow box and adding a personalised message for just £5.00. The staff member hosting the wrapping desk in Manchester was very happy to help me with my purchase and complimented what I had selected, a small but appreciated gesture that gave me a reason to smile.


In Conclusion

For a while Selfridges lost the sparkle that its founder had sprinkled on the business in his lifetime – he invented experiential retail a century before anyone even heard the term. But it was former CEO Vittorio Radice who is credited with bring the shine and style back to Selfridges.

Radice's legacy is present not only at the flagship location but throughout the business. He convinced the then owner Sears to install escalators in the centre of the flagship store so customers could see all around them while travelling up and down and it was he who introduced the bright yellow branding and carrier bags that are globally recognised.

As it may be apparent, Manchester was a much warmer, friendlier and pleasant experience overall. London did set the bar high however with its incredible building, huge selection, bold atmosphere and unique pop-ups.

Both are incredible examples of how to appeal to tourists and the luxury consumer but the warmth, smile and charm of Manchester's staff tipped the scales. London: 0 - Manchester: 1

Read our feature looking at the history of the Selfridges business.

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