Updated: Oct 6, 2018
One of my earliest shopping memories is in House of Fraser. Its not a cool memory (it involves snooker legend Terry Griffiths, an aftershave launch and a signed photo) but I realise that the department store has been in my life from a very young age. A stalwart of the high street, recent news reports about House of Fraser (HoF) closing 31 of it 59 stores tells a story, but what story? What's the significance of this, M&S and Mothercare's woes and can they be reversed? Do we even want them to be? What can department stores offer fashion consumers in 2018?
It feels significant that HoF are closing stores in UK Capital cities - Edinburgh, London and Cardiff - but given the real estate values of the stores it makes business sense. Less easy to understand might be the closure of a store in Plymouth for example ("we'll have no more MAC in Plymouth!" a distraught friend said!).
Chatting with friends, its clear that HoF stores are no longer offering what consumers are looking for. It feels like there is no targeted market for the department store these days - they are trying to appeal to everyone. You might say that HoF in Exeter (known as Dingles) does just that. The store is full of concessions - from Mango to Jacques Vert. Pros: a real bonus is that there's lots of brands to chose from. There's something for everyone. Cons: concessions are small and have very limited ranges. If I see a Mango dress worn by someone in the media, its unlikely that I'll be able to pop into Dingles and buy it. And I probably wouldn't even consider it - I'd go straight online. But I would walk through the Mango if I'm in store and might see something else fabulous. Oasis - why would a consumer visit the concession when there's a perfectly good stand alone store in Princesshay with more choice? Mint Velvet - appearing in both Dingles and John Lewis in Exeter but the shopping experience of the physical John Lewis store trumps Dingles every time. There is no flow to the HoF store; it feels outdated as an asset.
Hopefully the closure of some stores will release capital to do up others. If that was to happen, what should they spend their money on?
People go shopping as a pastime for different reasons, but "the experience" is high up their list. Its a social activity, its going with a friend, having lunch, its touching and feeling fabrics, its looking at the actual shape of a garment and not the pinned version on a model, its seeing the real unadulterated colour of garments. When the tone of a colour can make you look a better version of yourself or not, this is really important!
So department stores, here's my advice - invest in the customer experience.
Trying on clothes and shoes is a big thing - but the current experience in the majority of changing rooms on the high street is not a pleasant one. And it puts people off certain stores. But getting the right fit is so important - you can't replace this - that Goldilocks feeling of something being "just right" when you try it on can't be beaten.
So if trying on is so important, then make the experience better for consumers. Make changing rooms a focal point of the experience. Make them bigger, use natural light, make them cleaner, slicker. Have water on hand, have comfy seats for chums (and personal shoppers!) to deliver their honest opinions from.
And if the changing room experience is up there, lets make it a real service. More assistants on hand to help. This is a break even suggestion. In dept stores, where brands have less opportunity to create a brand experience for the consumer than in a stand alone store, people are a huge asset. If assistants were knowledgeably suggesting coordinating garments , accessories, shoes from all the brands in store and helping you to build a whole outfit as opposed to buying individual garments, consumers would be encouraged to spend more during their visit. Putting together outfits from individual garments is one of the key things that clients come to a personal stylist for. If this was available in store, consumers would leave feeling both stylish and with a ready to wear outfit AND valued. They would tell their friends about it and become a brand ambassador for that store.
However until department stores up their game and make the service more what the store consumer is looking for Personal Stylists and Personal Shoppers are here to help! A valuable, bespoke service every time!! Contact me on 07843 006335 or through my Contact Page to have a chat about how I can help you.