THE EVOLUTION OF RETAIL: 5 THINGS HARRY SELFRIDGE TAUGHT US

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When people talk about the evolution of retail, Harry Selfridge almost always comes up. If not by name, then certainly many of the developments he personally brought to light are discussed. As one of the fathers of modern retail, Selfridge changed shops from quick stopping points for those in need of specific items to destinations for women throughout the city. As certain outlets proclaim retail is dead, it’s helpful to reflect on the innovations Selfridge is responsible for and how those ideas are still effective in retail today.

1) “THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT” – HARRY SELFRIDGE 

Selfridge, himself, is often credited for coining the phrase, “the customer is always right.” This attitude helped make his Chicago store a success, which he then carried with him to London. Now more than ever, people crave authenticity and look for brands that take care of their customers. This is why platforms such as Yelp and Google reviews are so popular.

2) CREATE A COMFORTABLE SPACE, AND CUSTOMERS WILL STICK AROUND

Harry Selfridge began building in the early 1900s, at a time when modern amenities were rather uncommon. He was the first to install restrooms, which sounds like a minor thing, yet prior to this, women couldn’t stay out and shop because they’d have to head back home to use the loo. He also maintained comfortable ambient temperatures, making his department store the perfect space for people to flock to during inclement weather, and offered a coat check service as well.

3) RETAIL THEATRE DRAWS ATTENTION

Image result for interesting selfridge experiential stores

Selfridges opens in-store cinema: Photography: Andrew Meredith

Prior to Selfridge jumping in on retail, stores didn’t really cater to customers. People would walk in, find an associate, and request a specific item, which the associate would then collect from behind the counter. Selfridge’s was unique in that he created a massive department store with hundreds of departments and displays, enabling people to peruse stock on their own. He was also the first to light shop windows at night in Chicago, increasing visibility for those who might not otherwise be aware of the things his store had to offer. While lighting alone may not be enough today, the concept of creating a unique and captivating display is still effective in marketing.

4) EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING MAKES YOUR STORE A DESTINATION

Harry Selfridge may not have known what experiential marketing was at the time, but he sure understood how to use it. “Excite the mind, and the hand will reach for the pocket,” he was known to say. His stores offered everything from décor advice through flower arrangement classes. He utilised the store-within-a-store concept and created Field’s Tea Room, which rapidly grew from serving about 60 people per day to more than 1,500. On top of this, reading and writing rooms were available for visitors and he designed his flagship store with a rooftop garden. He also introduced the concept of gift registries for weddings, thus making his store the destination for those tying the knot and their guests. At a time when women still weren’t leaving their homes alone much due to societal stigma, Selfridge crafted a safe space for women to gather without gaining notoriety.

5) YOU MUST EVOLVE WITH THE TIMES

Selfridge didn’t simply capitalise on current opportunities. He was in business for an extended period of time and monitored how changes in societal expectations and events impacted his stores. For example, World War I was a trying time for retailers. The men went off to war and those who stayed behind (men and women) were cautious with their pennies. To overcome this, Selfridge offered traditional men’s jobs to women. Women suddenly became delivery van drivers, window cleaners, lift operators, took care of the store’s boilers, and even formed a fire brigade. He also inspired more confidence in shoppers, proclaiming everything was “business as usual,” and hosting more experiential marketing events, such as patriotic shows, plus streamlined his offerings to demonstrate the store was doing its part to support the war effort.

BE PART OF THE EVOLUTION OF RETAIL WITH A POP UP SHOP

Though many of the concepts  Harry Selfridge began more than 100 years ago are still effective today, the evolution of retail continues. If you’d like to get in on one of the best developments and open a pop up shop, Popertee has just the right place for your needs. Browse our listings today. You can also list your space free on our site.

Created on date: 01/10/2018