UK Department Stores: That’s Retailtainment

Dec 26, 2002
George Anderson

By George Anderson

US department store retailers continue to lose ground to mass merchants and specialty retailers while searching for a means to reverse the downward fall. For many, that means looking to what stores in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are doing, says USA Today.

So what is wrong with American department stores? David Southwell, of the British Retail Consortium says, “In America, department stores don’t have character, they don’t have atmosphere, they aren’t distinctive, and they’re not competitive in price. What’s the point?”

Gareth Thomas, director of selling for Peter Jones, spent four days touring stores in New York and had this unflattering assessment of what he saw. “I’m constantly looking for ideas to steal, but there is little or nothing I get from US department stores.”

UK department stores such as Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Peter Jones have found that shoppers not only want deals; they want to be entertained. Selfridges, for example, now holds weddings in its store in London.

Moderator’s Comment: Are the strategies and tactics
that have made UK department stores successful applicable to the US market?

British law only allows discounting of an item if it has
been at full price for the previous month, cutting down on the never-ending
sales mentality of many US retailers. The result according to Mohamed Al Fayed,
owner of Harrods is, “People respect the Harrods sale because it is a real sale,
undoubtedly the best in the world.”

Anderson – Moderator

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