LONDON — Anne Long hasn’t set foot inside Harrods in years, and the self-proclaimed shopaholic doesn’t miss it at all.
“I don’t even think about Harrods. It’s for tourists, not locals,” said Long, 68, a retired businesswoman who prefers to do her jewelry and fashion shopping at rival Selfridges.
For many British shoppers, the 164-year-old Harrods evokes a bygone era when Sigmund Freud, Oscar Wilde and the royal family walked its aisles and the retailer introduced England’s first “moving staircase.” Today, its dress code still bans flip-flops, Bermuda shorts and “unkempt clothing,” and there’s a bespoke stationery service on the second floor. Now, a push is on to update the stuffy image of Europe’s largest department store.
To stay true to the motto that’s engraved on the store’s neoclassical facade — Omnia Omnibus Ubique, or All Things for All People, Everywhere, Harrods is embarking on a revamp. To lure back Britons dazzled by the bright lights of Selfridges and other more modern-feeling shops, the owners have quadrupled investment, culled mid-priced brands and are refurbishing the 4.5-acre, seven-floor store to clear space for Stella McCartney and Fendi fashions.
Harrods has already increased the ranks of British patrons under the tenure of Managing Director Michael Ward, though he declined to disclose the jump. Even so, the store is in need of freshening. “We tend to be Marmite,” Ward said, referring to the British food spread whose distinctive salty flavor divides the nation into lovers and haters. “You will never win everyone over.”
Under his leadership, the brand is outperforming the sector. Harrods’ sales rose 11 percent in 2012.
ended January 2012, the most recent data available, compared with a 4 percent gain for the broader British department store sector that year. Still, it’s bringing in less than Selfridges’ four British stores — all owned by Galen Weston, Canada’s second-richest man — which generated about one billion pounds in sales.
Featuring the world’s largest shoe department and handbag brands from 69-pound Dune totes to exclusive 1,800-pound Delvauxs, Selfridges attracts the “seriously rich but also the not-so-rich,” says Tracy Wandsworth, 42, a mother of three. Selfridges is more innovative than Harrods and better at targeting younger Britons, Verdict’s Westnedge said.
To win back some of those customers, Ward said he plans to do “a bit of trimming” of mid-tier items, replaced by brands like Fendi, Gucci and Stella McCartney.
More profitable fashions helped boost Harrods’ operating profit 15 percent to 125 million pounds in 2011, according to statements filed to British registry Companies House. And they appeal across the board to all potential patrons, British or otherwise, he said.
Yet compared with Selfridges, Britain’s second-biggest department store, Harrods isn’t trying enough new things to generate buzz, according to analysts. This year, both stores have introduced expanded denim boutiques with specialists on hand to ensure the perfect fit of, say, 199-pound Current Elliott jeans. Selfridges, though, has added an online “denim lovers” campaign that encourages shoppers to post photos of their favorite jeans on Twitter.
“I know I’ll get to see all the latest fashions and some of the high street brands if I come to Selfridges,” said Sarah Petley, 33, a teacher from Birmingham, after spending 100 pounds on beauty products there. “Harrods didn’t even cross my mind. It’s a bit old-fashioned.”