I love going on a retail global tour and in the last 10 years, my focus has largely been around cities like New York, L.A., Tokyo and Singapore – the once-glorious London had fallen off my radar. But last July, I returned to London and I was pleasantly surprised. In short, summertime in London was a total vibe. From the vibrant Sunday morning markets to the revamped Battersea Power Station, it felt like London had its mojo back. Covent Garden was humming and even Tottenham Road was overt
ertaken by a digital open art gallery. People were wandering the streets, browsing stores, enjoying the sunshine and the community. Here are some of the retail highlights of my trip. Where community and commerce meet: Battersea Power Station Originally opened in the 1930s, the newly transformed Battersea Power Station is an excellent example of retail and community coming together in one beautifully designed development. I caught the tube to spend the morning there and it was definitely worth the visit. Since Battersea Power Station reopened less than two years ago, major retailers have flocked to open innovative retail spaces and concepts. There’s the Levi’s Tailor Shop, where customers can have their denim mended or customised, Zara’s flagship store inspired by renowned architect Frank Gehry and the Le Club Lacoste store concept, featuring bespoke fixtures, the UK’s first Lacoste pod fitting rooms, and an area dedicated to the brand’s classic polo shirts. Aesop was a personal favourite of mine. Its store design pays homage to the industrial history of Battersea and is inspired by mid-century sci-fi films. It’s a bit retro-futuristic. The wall display looks like mirror computer switchboards, the basin almost looks like a control desk and there’s a giant, orb-shaped light fixture above. When I visited during summer, the Battersea Games were on and the whole development came alive. People were playing on the 3×3 basketball court, clambering up the climbing wall, playing table tennis and boules and taking part in classes like yoga, boxing and HIIT training. There were also pop-up stores and classes from brands like Nike, Lululemon and Under Armour. During Wimbledon, the tennis was shown on the big screen in Power Station Park as well. Meanwhile, spectators could sip on gin and tonics from a giant Art Deco gin bus. A masterclass in excellent execution: M&S Food I was lucky enough to be given a special tour by the M&S Food team during my visit to London and I was impressed by not only the store itself but also how it operated. The M&S store I visited was renovated in June, extending the food department on one side by 30 per cent and decreasing the size of the apparel section on the other. Since then, the food business has doubled…and fashion has continued to thrive, despite the reduced floor space. That’s pretty extraordinary. It all comes down to smart planning and execution. I was also really impressed by M&S’ treatment of its own products. From the way that it’s beautifully branded and presented on the shelves, the premium range truly was the star of the show. The best supermarkets in Australia really should be taking M&S’ lead on private label. One of my favourite parts of my visit was watching the team ‘rumbles’ that took place three times a day, before and after busy periods. During rumbles, teams split up and undergo a visual merchandising blitz, ensuring that the entire store is well-maintained throughout the day. M&S team members are also stationed at different parts of the store during specific busy times, ensuring they are always available for customers. They’re both simple ideas, yet so effective. A next-gen department store: Flannels When we talk about the best department stores in the world, we often bring up Selfridges in the UK or KaDeWe in Germany. While it’s true that Selfridges and KaDeWe continue to offer retail excellence, Flannels must not be overlooked. It’s been described as a luxury retail experience focused on Gen Z – those tough customers who are not traditionally drawn to department stores. Owned by Frasers Group, the business has “ridden the wave of new aspirational shopping”, despite the cost-of-living crisis, CEO Michael Murray said last year. Given the Flannels customer base is made up of 18- to 30-year-olds, many are still living at home and don’t need to worry about things like rising interest rates, rents or utility bills. Instead, they like to spend their disposable income on fashion, beauty, health and wellness. Last year in March, Flannels rebranded its Oxford Street flagship store as Flannels X, which it describes as “an ever-evolving playground of pop-ups, gigs and brand experiences”. The highlight of Flannels for me was its basement, a flexible event space that transports customers into new worlds through art, music and fashion. It’s such a great versatile space for Flannels, whether there are hype drops, a live acoustic performance or a digital art gallery exhibition. Not a lot of retailers have successfully incorporated digital art into their offerings, but Flannels’ execution shows that done well and in a relevant manner, physical retail is potentially a space where NFTs can come to life and be enjoyed by the masses. Since Flannels X launched, it has also hosted major exhibitions like Beyonce’s Renaissance showcase to coincide with the artist’s global tour, featuring iconic costumes from the show and selling official merchandise and collector items for the first time outside of stadiums. Other events include live music performances, including complimentary champagne and make-up and hair makeovers. I also loved the visual merchandising throughout the store, showcasing some diverse and interesting ways to present product. The team has done a wonderful job, incorporating surprising textures, shapes and lighting throughout. Think mixing up rich brocade prints with monochrome tiles and unexpected combinations of patterns and colours. Beautiful. The new luxury: Burberry If you want to see how a heritage luxury brand has stuck to its roots, while evolving and speaking to new generations of customers, look to 168-year-old Burberry. The new 2000sqm store on Bond Street is a major milestone for the classic UK luxury brand, unveiling the debut collection from creative director Daniel Lee. It’s a well-crafted and considered store design imbued with elegance and timelessness, like the black-and-white checked overhead lighting inspired by its signature branding and the clever, bespoke fixtures created specifically to showcase its hero product – the classic Burberry trench. The design is on-brand but it’s still flexible – Burberry could still go in lots of directions and the space would serve it well. It’s an excellent canvas. The colours and shapes, like the checked flooring, scream Burberry, but they could showcase any product on the shelves. Luxury has always been the best of what retail offers, and the Burberry Bond Street store is a great example of that. A true luxury store should be as aspirational as possible. So if you want to see the best possible way to display a bag, the biggest, baddest brands in the world should nail it. That goes hand in hand with why you’re being charged several thousand dollars for a bag – you’re paying for every part of the offer. So if the bag is sitting on a beautifully hand-polished brass plate, as opposed to everyday laminate timber, then you can see why you’re paying for it. Personally, it’s one of the most interesting things I find about luxury. This is just a handful of stores that I enjoyed visiting in London last year, there were plenty of other great retail experiences. Whether it’s luxury, grocery, or fashion, London should be on everyone’s retail radar again.