Wednesday, 24 April 2013

"Get the confidence of the public and you will have no difficulty in getting their patronage." - Henry Selfridge

An innovator is someone who changes reality as we know it.  Henry Selfridge was one of those people.  He was an innovator who's goal was to make shopping thrilling, and he succeeded by revolutionizing the way department stores are presented to the public.  I learned about Selfridge when I watched the latest episode of Mr. Selfridge, a ten part series currently airing on PBS that surveys the man's life at the height of his career.  Seeing that London could benefit from the changes that he helped create in North American and European department stores, the entrepreneur opened the first Selfridges department store in 1909.  To this day, Selfridges is still one of the most recognizable department stores in the world, due to the provocative and creative way in which it is presented, even today.   Henry Selfridge  set a standard for the industry and is responsible, in some ways, for the way that we shop in the present day.

How did he accomplish his goal of making shopping a thrilling experience?  He used paid advertisements and fanciful window displays to draw customers into his department store, where they would buy things they didn't even know they needed or even wanted.   Henry Selfridge was one of the first business man to market goods to people in such a way.  This was even before Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, invented the field of public relations and basically created the consumer culture in which most first world countries reside. Selfridge was one of a handful of people who changed the way that we consume by using techniques in  human psychology to manufacture consent

Major department stores still use some of Selfridge's sales techniques, even today.  For example, he made his department stores feel luxurious and exclusive by creating a coat depository for his customers,  instructing his sales professionals to be more personable with guests, and telling them to always side with the customer.  Restaurants were installed so that shopping ladies could have an all day shopping experience.  There were also post offices, hair salons, and quiet rooms for rest.  Selfridge also decided to design the interior of  his department store in a new and provocative fashion.  Perfumes were moved to the first floor in the entry way where they were placed on glass counters and fitted with expensive price tags.  Common items were grouped together usefully; something that set Selfridges apart from other department stores.  In other stores, all of the items belonging to  one brand name were usually displayed together, even if the products  were not directly related to one another beyond their brand name.   To create a bit of controversy and spectacle, Selfridges  sold cosmetics; an item that was taboo  at the time.  The store layout, as well as the entire shopping experience, was geared toward female consumers, since they were usually the primary shoppers in most households.

To attract attention and create buzz, Henry Selfridge hosted speakers and events at his department store.  For example, there were flower arranging and design classes or seminars.  Prominent people were invited to give speeches or create spectacles.   The plane used to make the first flight across the English Chanel was displayed in one of Selfridges display windows to attract attention.   The man was obviously ahead of his time!

Looking at Selfridges today, it is still a spectacular department store.  The window displays are still colorful and provocative, and their advertising campaign is still impeccable.   Selfridges website is great; it`s easy to navigate, the branding is good, and every opportunity is used to offer suggestions.  Other department stores, such as The Bay, should be looking to Selfridges for inspiration if they want to stay relevant.   Actually, non-department stores can be inspired by Sellfridges as well.  For example, lets look at Chapters Indigo, the book retailer.  What could they be doing to sell more books in a time when book sales are down?  They could connect customers with the outside community by offering seminars or speakers that tie in with products being sold, just like Mr. Selfridge did.  Mr. Selfridge was a smart man.  The average person can witness iterations of his marketing ideas just  by going to their local mall. 

Disclaimer:  It's always good to consume responsibly, whenever you can.  This test will tell you if your consumable goods are sourced from companies that do not abuse human labour. Even if you do not choose to change your consuming habits, it's good to be aware of where your stuff comes from. 

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