Approximately 90% of the London’s West End district stores are reopening on June 15, according to New West End Company. The list of brands that will open their doors once again includes the following luxury retailers: Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Fenwick, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo.
However, newly reopened stores will be left depending on the local audience only to keep the sales going. According to New West End Company’s data, out of 200 million annual visitors of luxury retailers, 49% were international spenders. Prior to the pandemic, luxury goods bought during abroad travels made up approximately 40% of the industry’s revenue.
Director of Bond Street and Mayfair at New West End Company, Katie Thomas, shares that “[It’s] a big blow not to have those tourists”. According to her, while they have an audience among Londoners, they are dependent on international buyers.
“There’s a long road ahead of recovery. The key is to make it as safe and enjoyable as possible for the shopper,” Thomas says. She has also said that there are quite a few luxury retailers that are rearranging their establishments in accordance with a prediction of tourism not recovering until spring 2021.
Reopening luxury retailers are taking safety measures seriously. For example, Prada, Burberry and Ferragamo made it mandatory for the staff to wear masks and gloves, carry out temperature checks, sanitize surfaces and devices, and keep a one-meter distance away from the customers. Burberry’s employees specifically will have split shifts, therefore keeping the employees on-site to the minimum needed.
Despite the measures in place, some employees are apprehensive about returning to work. According to Harvey Nichols chief operating officer Manju Malhotra, special onsite training has been launched to address such concerns and to ensure maximum safety of the staff and colleagues alike.
The lines we are now used to in terms of essential shopping are expected to stay, for other forms of retail, the number of customers permitted within the shop will depend on the store’s size. Luxury retailers such as Harvey Nichols have disclosed that returned or tried-on merchandise will be kept away from the shop floor for 72 hours. Makeup testers will no longer be available to try from the counters – instead, individual samples will be given. Luxury retailers are also investing in touchless transaction tools to minimize contact.
This is becoming a largely digital area and the beginning of “contact-free economy”. According to Valentina Candeloro, director of international marketing at Mood Media, “shoppers will expect brands to use this new digital relationship to know them better.”
A study of Ipsos Mori back in may has shown that over 40% of UK citizens would feel reluctant to do non-essential shopping in person even after the lockdown measures are lifted. The shopping experience overall is threatened to be tempered with a sense of wariness.
Luxury retailers, on the other hand, have an advantage. They attract lesser crowds and usually have more floor space. Additionally, they are trusted to have the highest standards in terms of cleanliness and precautions
The challenge every brand is facing, however, is how to drive the customers back in and the retailers are coming up with new ways of doing so. For example, Harvey Nichols is currently working towards planning new launches and initiatives. Additionally, their loyalty programme participants can book a style advisor to help them navigate the store.
Sunspel is another store taking a new approach. While the store’s hours are reduced, it is dipping into the exploration of private shopping and Zoom shopping calls. Selfridges are developing appointment-based shopping slots that are available outside usual store hours. Together with Burberry and Fenwick, it is also offering virtual client appointments where the customers can browse the store from home with the assistance of sale staff online.
Luxury retailers are urged to update memberships or loyalty programmes with new perks such as 24/7 virtual consultations or line-cutting to retain their existing buyers. Personalization and limited edition only available in-store is predicted to attract the customers back into the stores.