Luxury department stores are a treasure trove – not only for tony bags and shoes, but stories. Recent documentary films have focused on the high net worth shoppers and salespeople at Bergdorf’s (Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s) and Neiman-Marcus (The Store). Secrets of Selfridges tells the story of the American visionary behind the infamous UK store and his indelible mark on the world of retail.
Harry Gordon Selfridge Sr., was a Wisconsin native who cut his retail teeth at Chicago’s Marshall Fields. He gained early success by introducing new promotional and customer service concepts. He’s largely credited with the phrases “Only X days until Christmas” and “The customer is always right.”
In just eight years Selfridge worked up to general manager, then quickly set his sights on taking the department store model to Britain. The iconic Oxford Street store is an architectural diamond, and his American approach to retail singlehandedly changed London culture.
Never before had different classes of British citizens been welcome in one commercial place as equals. For the first time women were encouraged to shop – without escort! – for pleasure. He embraced the women’s suffragette movement early on, gaining him a loyal following. Shoppers could freely peruse and browse merchandise under the guise of “just looking” instead of being expected to buy. No pushy salespeople here, just lots of merchandise.
Excite the mind and the hand will reach for the pocket.
Selfridge believed retail should excite and delight. His promotional tactics were incredibly successful at driving foot traffic. After Louis Blériot completed the first cross-Channel flight, Selfridge arranged to exhibit his monoplane on Selfridges’s first floor, drawing huge crowds.
His lasting contributions to retail are seemingly endless. Bi-annual sales? Credit Selfridge. Bargain basement? Selfridge. Cosmetics and perfume counters on the ground floor? Selfridge! H. Gordon Selfridge’s rise and (spoiler alert!) fall is a fascinating tale of a retail pioneer and an American outsider who becomes the king of London luxury.
On Netflix Canada now.