Interview: Selfridges reflects on a new breed of concessions

The UK will continue to see online retailers maintain and grow their footprint on the high street in the coming years, with department store set to be a popular avenue for digital-led businesses to promote and sell their brands in a brick and mortar environment.

That is the view of Adam Hockney, general manager of Selfridges Birmingham, where online fashion chain Missguided is set to open a larger permanent store in the coming weeks. The e-tailer has been operating a temporary pop-up shop in Selfridges ahead of securing the more significant space later in the year.

"Like all brands where you have an online experience for the customer, there is a physicality and a relationship that is only developed by going into a bricks and mortar store," he said.

"Shoppers want to see, feel and understand the product and understand what the brand represents rather than just have an experience in isolation."

Missguided appears to fit into this category, having opened its first ever concessions, in Manchester's Selfridges store last year, and then extending that strategy by unveiling a presence in US department store chain Nordstrom soon after.

US-based peer-to-peer eCommerce website, Etsy, also chose Selfridges – more specifically, the company's London Oxford Street store – as a destination for its first physical presence, in the build-up to Christmas 2015.

Hockney commented: "Missguided is a build is on fast fashion. It's got great price and good quality and the customers want to have an experience of trying on, playing with and enjoying an in-store experience with their friends before buying – something they wouldn't have at home."

"I don't think it's brought a different customer in. I think it's just expanded on their overall options to buy and the options available in the store. The customers who were shopping in one or two brands [at Selfridges] are now shopping in four or five because we have a much more credible offer."

Hockney was talking this week as his West Midlands store, which is one of four Selfridges department store chains across the UK, welcomes another new recruit to its growing list of concessions.

Danish general merchandise and homeware retailer Flying Tiger, until recently known solely as Tiger, had its official opening in Selfridges Birmingham this week. The move represents the first time the Scandinavian chain, which is one of the fastest growing retailers in terms of store openings in the UK, has opened a shop-within-a-shop anywhere in the world.

Jon Edwards, director at Tiger Midlands, says the partnership should be a suitable fit for both parties because they each have strong ambitions to be seen as leaders in their respective retail sectors. He also suggested it was a "positive message" for the UK that a European retailer was still investing heavily in the country "with no signs of stopping".

For Hockney, the arrival of non-eCommerce business Flying Tiger may not fit into the Missguided category of digital retailers opening in store, but nonetheless it aligns with the Selfridges brand mantra of embracing and housing diverse retail businesses.

"It's a continuation of what Selfridges is known for," he explained.

"There's the famous saying from 1909, "Everyone is welcome" [attributed to founder Harry Gordon Selfridge]. That's how we view the products within the store and the brands we work with."

He added: "Whether it's a £3,000 handbag or something that costs less than £1 – it's about making sure we have a product that reaches every customer and every angle."

Integrating new brands

Hockney reveals that Selfridges works with every new brand to arrive at the department store "to make sure they sit within the expectations of the Selfridges customers", and as a result there are multiple brands, including Flying Tiger, stocking products that might not be available in their own standalone stores but which might be "really inspiring" to a Selfridges customer.

"It's what is expected – that level of excitement, creativity and theatre."

From a technology perspective, Selfridges enables its concessions to use its Wi-Fi and till systems in one infrastructure, "so the customer has a continuous level of experience so they can shop till to till, product to product and it will all be generated and go through one till point", notes Hockney.

"Anyone who comes in actually joins our till system. We own the customer experience through that and own the point of sale."

In 2014 Selfridges launched a new website, as part of a £40 million digital investment that aims to modernise the group's retail offering and ensure its brand partners gain further exposure to online customers. The company's first shoppable mobile app was launched to market in May, too, with Hockney saying this has already generated customers who would not usually shop with Selfridges.

"I don't think any retailer can have tech down to a fine art – it is being developed continuously," he remarked.

"What we try and ensure is it's a seamless experience for the customer. We are always looking at the development of new technologies, and as we bring in new companies that inspires us to do things differently."

Flying Tiger has been trading in Selfridges for a week now and is finalising its look as part of the department store chain's family in Birmingham. It's a family that is set to grow with the expanded version of Missguided this summer and shoe retailer Aldo arriving in the near future, among others.

"We are starting to see more concessions and more products coming to a department store because overall customers are travelling from a greater distance to Selfridges in Birmingham to visit us and for the experience," Hockney noted.

"Having the more holistic offer and ensuring everyone feels welcome with the right product and experience – that allows us to get customers in front of those businesses. Where businesses are trying to build their brand and help the customer understand what they represent, we'll continue to see online businesses come into the high street – and particularly department stores – because they have the support and enablement of a brand like Selfridges to help them be successful."