Tech Forum: For Selfridges, the Future Is Now

·5 min read

Selfridges sets a high bar.

“Our purpose at Selfridges is to reinvent retail,” said Andrew Keith, managing director of the leading-edge, London-based department store. “For us, that’s always been looking to the future and being ready for what’s next.”

More from WWD

“We have always thought of our stores as immersive social spaces that are really more than shops. They’re places where culture, retail and entertainment collide. We are a destination. We are a day out. We actually think of ourselves as a creative playground, where our customers can come for discovery, whether it’s learning to skate in our Skate Bowl, a private viewing in our theater, exploring the latest exclusives in our Corner Store, or getting married, which is the ultimate in social gathering.”

Keith, during his conversation with WWD London bureau chief Samantha Conti, said since 2005, Selfridges has been “a champion” for sustainability. “It really is the heart of our business,” and a big part of the company’s future, along with technology, said Keith.

“The future is really going to be built on exploring the elements of sustainability and the metaverse. Fundamentally, that means we want to stay connected with our customers wherever they may be — in stores, digital or in the metaverse — and increasingly making that experience as seamless as possible.”

Selfridges has plenty of wants.

“We want to be able to lead with our values. We want to continue to challenge the status quo. We also want to make sure the experience gets elevated to the next level, and that dynamic collision that happens in Selfridges becomes more exciting and immersive,” Keith said.

“We are looking at investing in our tech capabilities so our team members can really guide customers regardless of what channel they [shop] on. The customer is at the center of all of our strategies going forward. In actual fact, we are measuring success based on the outcomes of engagements with customers, encouraging them to come back and to make more sustainable decisions in purchases.”

Selfridges’ Project Earth, launched in 2020, amplified the conversation with consumers on sustainability, and helped them discover ways to shop more sustainably. “Project has been the most successful campaign that we have launched and continues to be a key area resonating with our customers,” said Keith. “Bringing customers on the journey, involving them in the conversation and opening them to the realms of possibility is incredibly important.”

In Selfridges’ ever-changing Corner Shop space, a concept called Supermarket was up and running through last April, featuring 3D-printing robots creating plant-based steaks, lightweight handbags and recycled plastic furniture on demand, and material innovations, among other forward-thinking elements, as part of “an exploration of what the future of sustainable retail could look like.”

Of the 20 brands tested in the Supermarket, 18 are now within Selfridges’ main product portfolio, Keith said. “These amazing 3D-printed dishes are now being served in our restaurant.” He characterized Supermarket as one of the most effective Corner Shops, because of the level of excitement it generated and the conversations it has sparked.

“With sustainability, for us there is really no finish line. It’s a really fast-moving space. It’s going to be tech-enabled,” said Keith. “Sustainability is absolutely key to our decision-making and how we evolve. Our store of tomorrow needs to continue to face the climate emergency.

Through the pandemic, customer behavior has changed “seismically,” Keith said, citing “this growing expectation from customers to offer a hybrid digital physical experience. Thomas Heatherwick used the word ‘hyper-physical,’ which I really like.”

“It’s also important to use technology to strengthen the human connection at every turn,” Keith added. “It’s about being brave and bold and harnessing technology to do things differently. It’s also about using tech to educate, iterate, to learn and to continue to pilot. That’s what we have been doing a lot of with NFT collaborations (including) hosting the first Metaverse shopping week with our live social shopping.”

Through customer listening sessions, “What we picked up on was just a huge amount of curiosity around NFTS,” Keith said. So Selfridges earlier this year launched a collaboration with Paco Rabanne and Foundation Vasarely, which is dedicated to the works of Victor Vasarely.

“The spring/summer collection by Paco Rabanne was inspired by Vasarely’s work, who has always been futurist as an artist,” Keith explained. “It created an opportunity to explore NFTs and do it with a physical element as well.” The exhibit, staged in the Corner Shop, was “a first-of-its-kind, multilayered cultural collaboration, which meant we could work with Vasarely on 12 unique artworks and with Paco Rabanne on 12 NFTs,” Keith said. The proceeds and profits went to restoring some of Vasarely’s art. “It was really a 360-degree experience for customers,” Keith said. “Customers that bought the NFTs had the ability to have a couture piece made by Paco Rabanne. It was really that physical and digital working together” and the concept gave “a glimpse of how this hyper-digital-physical world is going to evolve.”

Selfridges, which other retailers often visit for inspiration for their own stores, also created what Keith characterized as the first Metaverse fashion week. “We are starting to see the evolution of consumption and innovation in product playing out, and our customers are really engaging.”

The company also wants to engage with businesses “that live by their values,” Keith observed. “Customers respect the fact that you stand up for what you believe in. We know customers want to engage with brands on their own terms, in store and remotely. They want to be personally recognized and have a personal experience. We want to embrace every customer and see them for being the individual and their true self.”

Sign up for WWD's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.