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Harrods shines

Nearly three years ago Mohammed Al Fayed sold one of the world’s great department stores to the Qatar Holdings Group. Resource-20

Since that time the new owners have been carefully refining the store, ensuring they didn’t make changes for changes sake, but rather applying capital and ideas to gently evolve the position of a great department store in the new era of retail.

What has emerged is a beautiful jewel with Harrods arguably assuming the mantle of the best department store in the world once again.

A billion pound turnover from one store, on-airport retail at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, online, and record profits have proven that a well run department store that knows what it is can be a powerhouse.

When you hear Australian department store’s views about pushing back on suppliers and landlords to ‘share the pain’ and then look at what Harrods is doing, you re can’t help but feel that there is a massive disconnect between the approaches of those that are increasing their profits and those that are in terminal decline.

Harrods understands that it should be the ultimate comparative shopping zone for all its customer’s needs.

Far from abandoning categories and running away when the fight gets hard, Harrods has invested in areas like home electronics.

Its range is nothing short of superb, every product is live and able to be sampled, staffing levels are high and the knowledge, engagement, and attitude of the people is exemplary.

Harrods has always owned its own property and always resisted the temptation to build more stores. It gets that the department store is a flagship CBD experience.

The Brompton Rd flagship is beautiful inside and out and jam packed with stuff to see, experience, and buy. Harrods understands that you can never do too much to help the customer part with their money.

The toy department’s staff spend all day demonstrating magic tricks, toys, models, and playing with customers.

The health and beauty department is staffed by beautiful people, genuinely helping customers to look, smell and feel beautiful themselves.

Harrods treats its suppliers as partners but has not overly divided the store up into concession stands that beg the inevitable comparison between the store and a shopping centre.

Harrods has a view on each season, mixes and matches, and seeks the right outcomes for each customer.

It may have been popular to mock Harrods in the past and argue that stores like Selfridges are hipper for Londoners, but the numbers of foot traffic, sales, and profits argue that Harrods is the true powerhouse.

A powerhouse that, despite the critics claims to the contrary, shows what can be achieved in physical retail to grow prices, margins, profits and a healthy franchise. It may be in a specific context, but every retail store is.

Harrods is a lesson to every department store in the world about what can be achieved if you know who you are, what your role is and how to play to your strengths.

* Peter James Ryan is head of Red Communication. He can be contacted on (02) 9481 7215 or at

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