We live in uncertain political and economic times. The high street is struggling. The pound is weak. Many businesses are struggling to survive, let alone thrive. However, Harrods is an example of a business that continues its success story through these difficult times; it reported record sales of £2bn last year. So what is the secret to this business’ enduring popularity and appeal?

We think its personal.

What Can We Learn from Harrods?

Harrods. Knightsbridge. It is difficult to imagine one without the other. For me, Harrods exists almost as a comforting anchor in a world that continues to shift, transform and change direction. Founded in the 1830s as a local grocery business, Harrods now enjoys worldwide acclaim; the store covers five acres and has over 300 different departments. Its success story is built on a business model that has continued to stay true to its founding principles, whilst continually showing ambition, adaptation and a no-compromise approach to the customer experience. 

For me, Harrods manages to invoke a very special and unmistakable feeling on each and every visit; whilst the products and shop-fittings change and improve, the experience seems to follow through across decades and generations.

Managing Director of Harrods, Michael Ward describes his job as ‘like being in charge of a toy box’. Although he began his career in accountancy, he took the helm at the luxury store in 2005 – six years after my first visit…


As an eight-year-old, I stepped through the famous doors for the first time, and the giant toy box revealed itself. Nearly twenty years on, the memories of that first visit remain vivid and rich – unchanged by subsequent visits, and happily – even magically – standing alone in their own right.

At this point in my life, I’d spent the majority of my life on the outskirts of Bradford, and my family had moved to Scarborough two years previously. So the entire experience of London was utterly entrancing – alien yet enchanting.


A taxi had been hailed from our hotel in neighbouring Kensington. I enjoyed the details – ‘Red Light Indicates Doors are Secure’ and the ‘Click’ of the locks after the traffic light turned green; the advert on the back of the flip-down seat; the fare-meter; the sound coming through the speaker in the glass separating the cab. And the movement and sound of the vehicle was different too. With all this interest within the taxi, I suppose it must have taken some effort on the part of my Mum to get me to look out of the window.

The sudden arrival. The click of seatbelts and clatter of coins on plastic. We emerged from the taxi, and I stepped towards Harrods.

I remember some very specific details of that first visit to Harrods, including the anti-theft signs dotted throughout the store (a wooden policeman with a flashing blue light) and the statues in the Food Hall. But the abiding memory isn’t really a memory at all, but a feeling – an emotion. It is difficult to put this feeling into words, as it is incredibly unique and personal. But it was a mixture of being utterly enthralled and overawed. As an eight year old, the Toy Department was beyond all my wildest dreams, but it was the Food Hall that had the biggest lasting effect on me. The grandeur and vibrancy – the brass handrails and marble flooring, the ever-changing aromas and colours, the life and energy in that broad, bright expanse. I suppose nothing since in my life has had quite so significant an impact.


Every few months, I have a longing to visit Harrods. But it’s not about the shopping – I’ve only made a handful of purchases over the years (sorry Mr Ward!); it is the pure experience of ‘being’ in Harrods.

Every time I visit the store, there are two departments that I never fail to visit – one being the Food Hall, and the other the Technology Department. Harrods boasts the latest, biggest, best technology that the world has to offer, and I am always interested to see it. I always wonder what technological developments have happened since my last visit? 

But whilst technology has evolved at such a remarkable rate in those 20 years, Harrods has stayed – at heart – the same.

Making Customers Feel Special – Experiential Marketing

Harrods focus on the luxury end of the shopping market means the shopping experience has to deliver. And its reputation means its customers expect more. A new cigar room has been installed in the store which boasts state-of-the-art air technology. It is an investment that has cost the business dearly, but Mr Ward understands the need to continually plough money into Harrods – given its reputation, it simply cannot afford to stand still. The result is a shop that people are actively drawn towards time and time again- they are curious to discover what is new and they know that the experience will deliver.

So what can we conclude from this? How can my experience at Harrods help you as a business owner?

We may not have the finances of Harrods at our disposal, but the idea of constant, vibrant reinvention, whilst holding firm to your values is a powerful one. Keep your customers engaged with your offerings – deliver something different and get people talking.

Whether this is through the organisation of an event, updating your window display or creating a customer offer, there are many ways to create positive engagement and excitement within your business.

Michael Ward puts it simply, ‘The high street is in decline because it is dull and boring and not inspiring to customers.’ Inspiration. The quest for any business is to be memorable – to live long in the memory of customers, friends and acquaintances; to make a positive and lasting impression. 

Harrods recent three year refurbishment cost £200m. Here is a business with an approach that manages to strike a rare and tactful balance; it is at the forefront of forward-thinking, but firmly adheres to its fundamental values and principles.

Source: The Daily Telegraph, Monday 20th August 2018


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