LONDON, United Kingdom — Later this month, Luxury Briefing will hold its 14th Luxury Briefing Conference, an annual gathering of the industry's great and good in London. Called Future Luxe, this year's conference will explore the luxury industry of the future and incorporate a new format designed to foster more networking and interaction amongst the attendees. The speakers — including writer Dana Thomas, Soho House CEO Nick Jones, and WGSN founder Marc Worth — come from all quarters of the luxury sector, and will tackle a wide range of issues to make sense of an industry that is engulfed with change.
Amongst the most significant developments in the luxury sector in recent years has been the rapid evolution of the luxury consumer. We have witnessed shifting attitudes and buying behaviour of luxury consumers in established markets like Europe, America and Japan and the rise of luxury consumers in emerging markets, especially China. We have seen the emergence of the 'aspirational' luxury consumer, but also the rise of the ultra-high net worth consumer, each of whom have different expectations when consuming luxury products and services.
One of the undisputed global leaders in luxury customer service is London's iconic luxury department store, Harrods, which has years of experience in serving different types of consumers, with different levels of spending power, from different parts of the world. In advance of the Luxury Briefing Conference, BoF caught up with Marigay McKee, Fashion and Beauty Director of Harrods and one of the store's most important ambassadors, to get an exclusive sneak peek of a panel of influential women who will discuss luxury retailing of the future.
BoF: At the FT Business of Luxury conference last June in Los Angeles, you said that 400,000 people come through the doors of Harrods 1 million square foot building every week. A growing number of these shoppers are Chinese tourists. Can you tell us how you specifically serve the Chinese luxury consumer?
MM: The majority of our customers live in Central London, however, we also have a high percentage of international clients from across the country and across the globe.
Chinese visitors constitute a well established proportion of Harrods international customer base and numbers continue to grow significantly every year. At Harrods the trend is for the highly brand conscious Chinese shopper to seek out the very latest, limited edition, and or exclusive products. Fashion, beauty, accessories and fine jewellery from luxury brands including Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior are amongst the preferences, and Harrods works closely with these brands to provide the exclusive and special edition goods these shoppers desire when they visit.
We continually tailor our service offering by working closely with Chinese tour operators to accommodate pre-booked groups, as well as by providing bespoke concierge services for customers. We are looking to expand on Chinese speakers and also have a Chinese Hospitality Manager to ease their shopping experience in store.
As well as the long-standing international reputation of our brand, our loyalty programme Harrods Rewards, an international Enewsletter, Chinese and Mandarin translations on Harrods.com and advertising in high end Chinese publications all contribute to the Chinese visitor’s attraction to the Knightsbridge store. Multi-lingual staff, later summer opening hours, worldwide shipping and our Global Blue tax free shopping service are also vital to the overall experience we offer all our international visitors and homegrown customers alike.
BoF: It is my understanding that Harrods plays particularly close attention to a small cadre of ultra high net worth clients who account for a very significant percentage of Harrods sales. How do you treat these UHNW customers differently?
MM: We do have a lot of high net worth clients who value an enhanced product offer, a great mix, excellent service and exclusivity on tap. We have special parking services, hospitality services and an excellent department for personal shopping called By Appointment run by a team of service focussed experts. Creating a personal rapport and valued relationship with our customers ensures they return. The CRM programme and team have greatly aided us in this arena as it is outstanding.
BoF: This past year, Harrods expanded its online function to launch new ecommerce categories which are set to grow healthily in the future. What makes the online experience at Harrods.com stand out? How do you integrate your online business with your retail business?
MM: Harrods is the World’s most famous Department Store. And there’s nothing like a trip to the store. However, with one physical location, the web is a vital tool in reaching shoppers on a global level, to match the power of the brand. We are just beginning on a journey to develop a site that matches the experience in store.
There is an intense interest and a significant investment in developing Harrods.com to add revenue and prestige to the site, as well as making it visually and aesthetically a ‘go to’ tool for research and shopping.
This year we introduced the Shoe Boutique on harrods.com, home to the latest collections and trends for women and men from leading International designers. This has been a key sales driver. As Harrods is just a unique destination, a large majority of our clients, especially the fashion regulars like to come in and experience the reality of the fashion bustle in store.
BoF: You will be speaking on a panel of influential women in luxury at the Luxury Briefing conference later this month. As you look to the future of luxury, what are your priorities for Harrods both in the short-term and over the next 5 years?
MM: Luxury is evolving at a very fast pace and real luxury is becoming even more discerning and sought after. We’ve seen huge growth coming from the power brands of the last decade but also renewed growth in heritage and couture classics. To really stand out we have to have a point of difference, a real wow factor in store, a unique exclusive factor and outstanding service levels in an unparalleled environment.
The formula to success varies from brand to brand from business to business but desirable aspirational luxury is here to stay and dream investments are on most people’s wish lists guaranteeing the need for a luxury store to fulfil them.
BoF is pleased to be an official media partner of the Luxury Briefing Conference to be held on 20-21 January, 2010 in London. A few tickets are still available to attend the conference in person. For further details, please visit the registration page and see the full itinerary here.
CEO Talk is BoF’s forum for in-depth discussions with the fashion industry’s global decision makers, conducted by founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed.
This interview has been edited and condensed.