Shop of the range

Mainstream high-street retailers such as Topshop, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams are competing to offer personal shopping services that were once the preserve of high-end department stores, says Emily Gosling

This month sees the launch of the personal shopping service for men in Topman’s Oxford Street flagship store, with interiors designed by Lee Broom. While personal shopping services have previously been predominantly viewed as the preserve of the elite, Topman’s initiative highlights the increasing trend for high-street retailers, such as Topshop, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, to offer services once limited to high-end department stores.

Richard Dodd, spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, says of the trend, ’Mainstream retailers are all battling it out on value, so it’s about what extra they can offer a limited but significant group. It’s bringing something that the very exclusive, high-end retailers have done for some time to a more mainstream group of customers.’

According to Broom, despite the difference in budget between high street and high-end shoppers, customer profiles of those using these services, and therefore considerations in designing for them, are broadly similar.

’It has to be a space where you feel comfortable and at home,’ says Broom. ’You’ve got a stranger advising you on clothes, so the scenario’s a bit leftfield anyway. The space has to be differentiated from other areas in the store it has to have more of an air of exclusivity.’

The interiors for the Topman suite are influenced by gentlemen’s clubs and bars, creating a ’fun and enjoyable experience’, according to Broom. The suite uses a ’fairly simple’ palette and mock-Regency white panels, with sliding doors that are adjusted to reveal more outfit options.

Broom says, ’It’s not just about interacting with the clothes, but with the whole space.’ He adds, ’It’s the same as bars or restaurants it’s escapism, so it needs to be fun and exclusive, with a hint of glamour.’

The Topman suite’s interiors are influenced by gentlemen’s clubs and bars, creating a ’fun, enjoyable experience’

Alongside experiential elements, Broom feels that focusing on the clothes must remain a primary consideration. ’On the shop floor they’re on mannequins, but we’re not mannequins,’ he says. ’A personal shopping lounge is about finding creative ways to present the clothes.’

David Shepherd, Topman managing director, says, ’We wanted a personal shopping suite which would offer a luxurious but modern surrounding, so that guys on appointments would enjoy the time they spent there.’

He adds, ’The space needed to be functional with three consultation areas clearly defined for appointments, as well as an Xbox gaming area and an Asahi honesty bar.’

Last month saw the opening of Harrods’ new personal shopping area The Penthouse, with interiors designed by GP Studio, which also created personal shopping areas for Harvey Nichols stores in Birmingham and Knightsbridge.

GP Studio managing director Gregor Jackson says, ’Personal shopping tends to attract the bigger-spending customer, so it needed to feel like a sophisticated environment and reflect the Harrods brand.

’There’s a sense of luxury and comfort rather than being trendy or high fashion,’ says Jackson. ’It references a hotel lobby, as a space where the customer can relax and enjoy the whole shopping experience.’

The experiential nature of personal shopping also informs the design, according to Jackson. ’In a personal shopping space, the process needs to be orchestrated almost seamlessly, so there are a lot of practical requirements.

’Space, lighting and mirrors are all extremely important there’s a slightly theatrical approach to it, and a showmanship which can be addressed with the physical aspects.’

Jackson says he feels increasing competition is driving high-street retailers to offer services that were once exclusive to higher-end department stores.

’Personal shopping was always seen as something slightly intimidating either for the high spender or for an occasion. It has changed there is a demand for the retailer to offer more,’ he says.

Luxury personal shopping service Shop at The Savoy launched in December, comprising a ’virtual shopping space’ throughout the London hotel, which is available online, on room televisions and in windows. In two weeks’ time, a designated personal shopping consultation space will open.

Retail service consultancy Change Retail created the branding, retail, interiors and digital design for the service, while Phil Dolman of Studio DB created interiors for the designated personal shopping space.

Dolman says, ’We want to make the client feel at ease. The space is comfortable though slightly edgy it’s a mixture of modern pieces and those with a historical reference.’

Simon Thompson, managing director of Change Retail, says, ’We’re trying to create a space that gives us an ability to showcase the product. We want people to walk in and feel relaxed it’s not exclusive.’

Like Jackson, Thompson feels high-street retailers are driven to offer personal shopping services in the face of fiercer competition for customers. He says, ’It’s easy to get arrogant in times of boom, but people are beginning to recognise that building relationships with customers is essential the more you know the customers, the better you can serve them and the more likely they are to return.’

Personal shopping on the high street

  • Debenhams offers free half-hour consultations advising on colour and designs according to customers’ image and lifestyle
  • House of Fraser offers a free personal shopping service in 11 UK stores, including consultations on lifestyle, favourite colours, preferred labels and personality
  • A select number of Marks & Spencer stores offer a personal shopping service
  • Selfridges offers a personal shopping service. Following an initial consultation, an advisor creates a personal shopping profile on their computer and shops in-store accordingly

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