Harrods, by Appointment

Mohamed Al Fayed’s Knightsbridge store introduces a new ‘focus’ on personal service — to ramp up the top-end shopping experience

By Denise Marray

Published: Sat 11 Apr 2009, 12:06 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

Here’s a quick question for well-heeled brides-to-be and their harried mothers. What do you do if in order to accommodate all your friends and respect your cultural and family traditions you need to hold wedding ceremonies/parties on three continents? Do you have a nervous breakdown making lists and fretting over booking venues, hotels and flights or do you just raise a perfectly manicured hand to tap out the number of ‘Harrods — By Appointment Beyond’?

These days the famous Knightsbridge store reaches far beyond its luxurious shopping floors to extend a hand to the rich and needy throughout the world. Talking to the elegant staff whose job is to provide this VIP service, you feel they would scour the corners of the known universe on behalf of their demanding clients. “Everything needs to be perfect,” one explained, “and sometimes that means working 24/7.”

The personal shoppers and assistants are highly trained and many develop special areas of expertise. For example, as the spokeswoman explained, two were recently sent to a Lalique factory in France to further their knowledge of fine crystal. All personal shoppers are expected to stay abreast of the latest fashion trends and to develop a detailed understanding of their clients’ tastes. Some clients like to come into the store to consult and cruise the floors with their personal shopper, while others of the ‘cash rich, time poor’ variety prefer to make their requests online or through their PAs, butlers or personal chefs. For example, if a client is giving a dinner party in Saint Tropez, New York or London, the personal chef will liaise with the personal shopper on the ingredients which will, if necessary, be air-freighted out ‘pronto’. Those who do venture into the store will be swiftly whisked away from the madding crowds into private consultation rooms and lounge areas. Here with a glass of champagne in hand they relax as their shopper rushes about bringing designer clothes and luxury items for their leisured consideration.

Harrods owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, speaking exclusively to Khaleej Times, gave some pointers on staying ahead of the competition. “The successful companies”, he said, “will be the ones that know their market and their product inside-out. If you can offer your customer or client something unique, then you will retain them during the bad times.” Casting his mind back over his long career he recalled learning “the first rules of business on my grandfather’s knee when we lived in Egypt.” His grandfather inspired him to form his first company, Genavco. Today, his philosophy can be summed up with the phrase, “make sure that whatever you do, you do it the best.” He added that “while it is important to be competitive in terms of value for money, at Harrods I put great emphasis on service to make our customers feel special and create the theatre and atmosphere for people to enjoy the experience of shopping here and online.”

That emphasis on creating the right mood can be seen in the exclusive spaces set aside for customers using the personal shopping service. The men’s area has a gentleman’s club feel about it with soft lighting, dark wood panelling, leather armchairs and plenty of brandy on hand to calm even the most shopping averse. In fact, as the spokeswoman explained, men do enjoy shopping so long as the hassle is removed. In private consultation rooms some customers like to view rare and limited edition watches or the latest high tech gadgets and accessories.

The women’s area has a brighter feel with comfortable sofas, the ever present champagne, and large, well-lit changing rooms. Here the personal shopper will offer discreet advice on what looks good and, crucially, what doesn’t. A typical request might be, “Please could you update my wardrobe for this season.”

It hardly needs to be said that this kind of service doesn’t come cheap. Don’t apply if you can’t afford to drop a minimum of £2,500 on purchases — though nothing so vulgar as money will be mentioned by your shopper and you don’t pay for the service, just the carefully chosen items.

Taking a closer look at what ‘By Appointment Beyond’ can provide, let’s take the example of the bright young thing who recently celebrated her 21st birthday party. Based in Dubai she had the demanding task of organising parties in three time zones. Except, she didn’t get stressed out because — yes- you guessed it she called ‘By Appointment Beyond.’ No sooner had her call been received than the personal shoppers and assistants donned their thinking hats and using their ‘pool of contacts and networks that are second to none’, set to work on her behalf.

One discerning client wanted to organise a birthday party for her fiancé. But not just any old party — only the best for her beloved. So she called By Appointment Beyond who rustled up a top London chef to set up in her home which was festooned with flowers by a leading florist.

So is ‘By Appointment’ recession proof? This caused a tiny, fleeting frown to appear on the brow of the effortlessly stylish spokeswoman. “People are shopping less for certain things”, she said, “they’re cutting back a bit — they might, for example, buy only three designer bags rather than five.”

Before we all reach for our handkerchiefs, however, it should be pointed out that they are planning to hire more staff as “we’re struggling to keep up with demand.”


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