Interview: Harrods MD Michael Ward on luxury retail trends
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Interview: Harrods MD Michael Ward on luxe retail trends

Interview: Harrods MD Michael Ward on luxe retail trends

The managing director of the UK-based luxury department store shares how the store is adapting to changing consumer expectations, the Luxury for Life initiative and Harrods Hive

Neesha Salian
Harrods _ Supplied

1. How has the luxury retail space evolved globally? Tell us how Harrods is leveraging these trends.

Michael Ward, MD of Harrods
Michael Ward, MD of Harrods

We see luxury retail today as being shaped by two trends – the demand for unique experiences that delight and reward the customer and the desire for rarity and exclusivity. Harrods is fortunately well positioned to lead in both of these areas.

A visit to the store can always be a new experience, with ever more inventive pop-ups and brand collaborations, and we pride ourselves on the exclusivity of what we can offer to our customers, whether it is accessories or watches, we bring together the rarest, most sought-after items under one roof.

2. What were the store’s key performance highlights in 2022?

Last year was a return to strength for us after recent years’ lockdowns and travel restrictions. We were very pleased to have our GCC clientele return in force from the summer and were able to welcome returning customers with new in-store developments, from new menswear spaces on the second floor to a number of new dining experiences, including adding to our portfolio of partnerships with internationally renowned chefs with the launch of our latest restaurant, Studio Frantzén, in partnership with six Michelin star chef Bjorn Frantzén. Our collaboration with Dior for the Fabulous World of Dior at the end of the year was also a strong performance driver, bringing a lot of footfall into store to close the year.

3. How has Harrods maintained its relevance and popularity in a world now leaning toward e-commerce?

We serve our customers however they best prefer to shop – our Knightsbridge store remains at the heart of our business but means our customers can shop online from any part of the world.

What both our in-store and e-commerce services offer is the very widest selection of global luxury brands and unparalleled service.

For our in-store experience we then focus on the experiential – whether that is something like our incredibly popular recent partnership with Louis Vuitton and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama – or the finest dining offerings and wellness services; a visit to our store serves every sense.

4. How would you define the Harrods experience and what sets it apart from other luxury retail stores?

Harrods acts as a shop window to the world of luxury, presenting not only the widest selection of the world’s top luxury brands but, what sets us apart from any other retailer, is that we then can offer the most exclusive offerings from these brands too, with sought after items which can only be found in our Knightsbridge store.

Our store also houses 22 dining destinations, representing different cuisines and bringing together a host of award-winning chefs under one roof. Finally, one of Harrods’ most renowned attributes is our unmatched service. This philosophy of “anything is possible” ensures we remain the international leader in luxury retail.

5. Tell us about the GCC and UAE as important source markets for you. What is the percentage of shoppers from this region?

Our GCC customers are indeed very important to us. Sixteen per cent of our clientele in 2022 (based on Harrods Rewards data) was from the GCC and even during the travel restrictions of the pandemic period, we retained a strong GCC customer base, representing 10 per cent of trade in 2021. Harrods has a longstanding relationship with the Middle East customer and our constantly evolving offering means we can shape a vision of modern luxury for generations to come.

6. What are some of the key trends when it comes to shoppers from the Middle East?

The Middle East customer, especially the millennial and Gen Z generations, expect brands to increasingly play a role in elevating local talent.

To this end, we are very much looking forward to launching our Harrods Hive in the region this year. The Hive is our initiative to bring together a number of experts from different disciplines to share knowledge and inspire other future creatives through networking events and industry-led panel discussion. We will be hosting the first of four Hive events, starting in the UAE, this spring.

7. What are the most important fashion categories for Middle East customers? Is this changing?

We see strong demand across fashion but what is most important for our customers from the Middle East is firstly rarity and exclusivity and secondly, we see a high desire for the more luxurious fabrics and that is consistent across categories.

7. In addition to apparel, what are some of the other important segments for the store?

We have 330 retail departments and concessions in our Knightsbridge store so there is so much more beyond apparel and accessories.

The Harrods Beauty Halls are world-renowned for luxury skincare, perfume and makeup from classic favourites to the next cult brands, our home offering brings together prestigious brands with the expertise of our interior design studio and our historic Food Halls are the world’s greatest food emporium and enduringly popular.

8. Tell us about the store’s sustainability initiatives.

Our ambition is for Harrods to operate with the highest environmental integrity whilst continuing to deliver the highest quality luxury services and products. Harrods’ sustainability strategy ‘Harrods Path’ includes our Scope 1 & 2 Net Zero goal by 2030, new business models like our ‘Luxury for Life’ offering to ensure items can be treasured forever, guidelines for how we responsibly source materials and ingredients and targets to tackle waste through both reduction and recycling.

We’ve made some significant steps in recent years, with our small-van fleet now 100 per cent electric and our large-van fleet run on biofuels and we have removed all single use plastic from our customer outbound packaging and removed plastic carrier bags from across the store.

9. Tell us about the luxury for life initiative and its impact.

Our ‘Luxury for Life’ offering brings together in-store restoration, repair and remodelling services for our customers.

We have partnered with The Restory to help customers lengthen the lifespan of their luxury accessories and our Harrods Atelier service provides repairs and remodelling services. It’s been really popular, bringing new life to some much loved items and our customers appreciate the ease of being able to drop off items in store and then picking them up next time they shop.

10. Any key retail trends that you predict will impact 2023?

For us, 2023 will continue to be about the curation of the exceptional and collaborating closely with brands to give unique and exclusive experiences to our customers. There will also be a number of new restaurant openings, bringing even more internationally renowned names under one roof.

Finally, we will be starting to build on the womenswear floor to further elevate this space and beginning the build of a new 23,000 square foot private shopping area on our roof.

Read: Here’s how companies can adapt to changes in the retail sector

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