Retailers have a lot more to worry about than just whether they’re offering the right service.
At what point did luxury become boring? Whether it’s the Louis Vuitton Maison on Bond Street (designed by Peter Marino – interior architect to retailing’s luxe crowd), the newly refurbished shoe department in Harrods or perhaps the forthcoming Loewe store on London’s Mount Street (which will follow another Marino template), luxury increasingly tends to mean beautifully crafted, but dull.
Now contrast this with the mid-market, think perhaps Topshop, River Island or Superdry and there is evidence that although these are examples of mass roll-outs, they are visually more interesting. Talk to the luxury purveyors and they’ll be quick to tell you that there is too much at risk with an established format to be in the business of regular change – the message generally seems to be that once you’ve got an interior that works, it’ll be acceptable for longer than is the case in the fickle mid-market.
All this is of course to overlook that other element of the luxury experience: service. The trouble is that this too has become a mite formulaic. Rightly or wrongly, much has been made recently of Mary Portas’ televised crusade for better service at the value end of the fashion market and the experience at this end of the market is radically different from what you can expect if you’re a luxury devotee…up to a point.
If you choose to visit Primark, for instance, service will be thin on the ground because the staff have their work cut out just keeping the rails filled, so there will be nobody to help you in your quest for a piece of ‘Primarni’. Now head to a luxury store and oddly the experience may well actually be similar if you don’t pass the judgement made of you when you run the gauntlet of the earpiece-wearing black suit opening the door to let you in. If he greets you things will probably be OK. If not, your chances of being ignored by the staff because you’re deemed to have insufficient funds will mean a lonely time.
Service, design, product and price, it’s really hard to think of a retailer that manages to strike a balance between all four and retailing’s luxury end is as full of shortcomings as the more easily attacked value merchants. There are of course exceptions and perhaps Lakeland and maybe Steamer Trading could be singled out for their ability to provide design, experience, service and products that span a range of price points. There will be more, just not than many and here Portas is right, shoppers do deserve better, but better of everything. It’s the mix, rather than just service, that determines whether a store is worth visiting.