“If you lived at Downton Abbey, you shopped at Selfridges.”
Having visited the London store of Selfridges & Co several times, I was looking forward to seeing the recent UK production of Mr Selfridge on Channel 7…. and it didn’t disappoint!
The 10 part series centres on the real-life story of the flamboyant and visionary American founder of London’s famous department store, Harry Gordon Selfridge. The beautiful and faithfully reproduced costuming takes centre stage, and I became totally immersed in the fascinating tales of love and life based around the various staff and others associated with the Selfridges phenomenon.
In 1909, with a massive burst of publicity Harry opened Selfridge’s, England’s first truly modern purpose-built department store. Designed to promote shopping as a sensual and pleasurable experience, six acres of floor space offered what he called “everything that enters into the affairs of daily life”, as well as thrilling new luxuries – from ice-cream sodas to signature perfumes. This magical emporium also featured Otis elevators, a bank, a rooftop garden with an ice-skating rink, and a restaurant complete with orchestra – all catering to customers from Anna Pavlova to Noel Coward.
What I didn’t realise before I began watching the TV series is what a huge impact Harry Selfridge and his store had made on a favourite pastime of many … shopping!
I learned that many things we consider ‘normal’ in retail today were introduced by Mr Selfridge. He tried to make shopping a fun adventure instead of a chore and made it acceptable practice to purchase items in a store atmosphere, as opposed to scheduling meetings with personal tailors and dressmakers in private.
Here are a few interesting innovations he put into practice that are woven through the series:
- He put merchandise on display so customers could examine it – previously stringent rules and regulations about shopping had it hidden away under counters and in cases.
- He put the highly profitable perfume counter front-and-centre on the ground floor – this gave customers a wonderful relief from the no doubt highly pungent smells of the London streets in the early1900s.
- He invented what we now think of as window dressing (and the Selfridges windows remain amazing, year in year out), which enticed even more shoppers inside.
- He introduced marketing techniques that are used to this day – special events and celebrity appearances just to get more foot traffic and he introduced sales line such as ‘There are only ‘x’ more shopping days ’till Christmas’.
- He grouped all women’s needs in one area of the store – clothing, accessories, lingerie, makeup and perfumes. Previously they were separated across several areas of a store.
- He got shoppers into a store without any specific purpose – just to ‘window-shop'; and kept others there longer than needed to buy the item they came in for by having a store restaurant (The Palm Room), a reading room, relaxing room, rooftop garden and more.
- He attracted shoppers with educational and scientific exhibits (and was himself interested in education and science), and he believed that the displays would introduce potential new customers to Selfridges, generating both immediate and long-term sales.
- Harry Selfridge was obsessive about customer service and is generally acknowledged as the first to have coined the phrase “The customer is always right!”. He used this extensively in his advertising.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch this series, it will no doubt be widely available on DVD soon and I would highly recommend it – watch out for the second series coming in 2014, only on Channel 7. I would also recommend the fabulous biography ‘Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge’ by Lindy Woodhead – it is a great read!
Images courtesy of Channel 7
‘Shopping Seduction & Mr Selfridge’ by Lindy Woodhead
Masterpiece Theatre, UK