Things are changing in New York stores, but is it a pattern that we’re seeing in the UK?

Times are tough for New York retailers, but that doesn’t mean that there’s any lack of innovation. Whether it’s the Nordstrom-owned Treasure & Bond, the ‘philanthropic’ store that opened in August and which donates all of its profits to charity, or 1969 Premium Jeans (aka Gap), there’s plenty to look at. And all of this has appeared over the last 12 months. There is of course the new Apple Store at Grand Central station, which must have the city’s best retail view as you gaze out over the marble concourse rather than looking at the finely-honed products, but it is, naturally, packed.

The real thing that you notice however has less to do with new store design and a lot more to do with the human factor. The US has frequently been the subject of some bemusement for British visitors as enquiries about your welfare and hopes that you have a good day trip off the tongues of sales ‘associates’ in every store. This appears to be changing however.

Now it seems to be more a case of being left to your own devices, but the staff really know their stuff if you want something (other than in Lady Foot Locker where nobody seemed to know anything).  It’s now OK to set foot in a New York store without fear of being jumped by an over-zealous member of staff intent on clinching that deal.

All of which makes the city something of a pleasure to visit if shopping’s the thing. And now the kicker. Service should be about providing help without feeling that you are being pushed. In New York this seems to be on the verge of being achieved and in the UK , in certain shops, it’s the same story. The trouble is, staff who are too busy to help, or even actively offhand, remain a depressingly familiar fact in many British retailers’ stores.

That said, pay a visit to Bergdorf Goodman, the very, very upscale department store, and if you’re wearing jeans, the chances are good that you’ll quickly discover what it’s like to be measured up, tried and found wanting by the staff. Some things never change.