BHS may have collapsed, but Brits love department stores

For a short while the future of the British high street appeared unbalanced with the collapse of BHS, once a favourite amongst the department store set. Many have gone on to question the traditional model of the department store and its complex matrix operations. Are they entities created to make profits for shareholders, or could it be they are unique in the British retail landscape?

The fact is, department stores form the very fabric of British retail. Their existence is integral to the infrastructure of cities and towns across the UK, not just as economic businesses and employers, but as an extension of our lives. Department stores are often the anchor of our High Street, just visit any John Lewis or House of Fraser on a buzzy Saturday afternoon, and the Brit's love for department stores can be witnessed firsthand.

BHS may have collapsed, but Brits love department stores

The ITV series Mr Selfridge reminded us of the old-school glamour and seduction once associated with department stores, and while some of the grandeur may have faded, shoppers today still have a fierce affection for department stores, be it their local independent store, a nationwide partnership such as John Lewis or an iconic favourite like Fortnum & Masons.

Everything under one roof

First and foremost, department stores are where we can find everything under one roof. They meet our retail needs with merchandise spanning categories such as clothing, beauty, electronics and homeware, offering a haven of possibility and ideas. Products are not only own label but are from a variety of well-sourced and diverse bunch of brands. John Lewis, for instance, stocks 350,000 products across its 46 department stores.

But we don't just visit department stores to shop. They are very much a social hub and a place of interaction. We can browse collections on a rainy day, meet friends for lunch, or enjoy an early evening cocktail. The food halls in stores such as Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Harrods are delectable enough to while away an entire afternoon. Harrods alone houses 27 cafes and restaurants.

BHS may have collapsed, but Brits love department stores

Social hubs and shopping destinations aside, department stores also offer the ultimate in customer experience. Selfridges is a good example, as it has pioneered events and installations in the spirit of true retail theatre, constantly testing new and innovative ways to engage its customers, whether that's through a pop-up cinema, installing a temporary fragrance lab, or by launching a silent shopping area with meditation sessions. Having the most desirable merchandise on its shelves is a draw too.

Christmas begins in department stores

Nowhere is the Christmas spirit felt as intensely as in department stores. In fact, Christmas starts somewhere in October or earlier in most stores. Certainly the festive period is a long drawn-out retail affair, but beyond the economics, shoppers come to see the imaginative curated windows from the likes of Harrods and Selfridges and to experience its unique Christmas atmosphere. Even the Christmas ad campaigns have become a source of admiration and critique. Last year John Lewis' Man on the Moon campaign reached 22 million views across the retailer's social media channels in the first week of launch alone.

Customers have access to brands in department stores which they otherwise would not be exposed to. Customer service is key to retaining visitors, and being able to browse brands from A Bathing Ape to YSL under one roof without the snootiness of boutique staff is why their business will stay strong. There is also the knowledge that making a purchase from a department store comes with a certain guarantee, where shoppers can expect a qualitative standard and service in case something they bought goes defunct.

Online retailers may provide convenience to customers, but they will never offer the same experience. In the words of the Harry Selfridge, founder of Selfridges: "Give the lady what she wants."





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