Liberty of London – 3 things retailers can learn

Monday evening saw the first episode of Liberty of London – a fly-on-the-wall documentary, going behind the scenes at one of Britain‘s oldest and most beloved department stores. Nestled in the heart of London‘s shopping district, you would be forgiven for mistaking this listed building for a museum on first glance. And maybe it is. Liberty has been in London for 138 years when it was first made famous for its import of oriental rugs, hand-picked eclectic goods and the now famous Liberty print fabrics.

In recent years the store has had to pick up the pace and modernise in order to keep up with its competitors. As MD Ed Burstell stated in Monday‘s opening episode – ‘you have to adapt to survive.‘ Brought in as MD in 2010, Ed has helped to bring the department store back from the brink and out of the red. As Liberty evolves and gets to grips with new ways of engaging customers, there are a number of lessons to be learnt for all retailers. These are issues that, at ShopperTrak, we work on closely with our clients on a day-to-day basis –

Maximise and analyse the space

The shape of the Liberty building doesn‘t automatically lend itself as ‘selling space‘ with much of the stock lining corridors around the central atrium. In the first episode, one of the key issues facing staff was understanding the sales breakdown per square foot, to determine how departments were performing and whether each area of sales potential was being maximised. It‘s a problem that many retailers face, particularly when it comes to reporting and quantifying the performance of the business. Staff at Liberty were forward thinking in their approach, converting storage space and even a disused toilet on the top floor into a beauty and treatments room.

Customer service

‘What do you call a comfortable time to be waiting at a till?‘ asks one member of staff to another. ‘Two minutes?‘ he responds. ‘I would probably leave after two minutes.‘ Long queue times are one of the biggest hurdles that retailers face. In a busy world where time is precious, waiting too long is hugely off-putting and can cause shoppers to abandon the purchase altogether. Being able to monitor, predict and take proactive action on queue times is a key weapon in a retailer‘s armoury.

Staff training

The Christmas shop is one of the annual highlights at Liberty and with it comes an influx of new staff. Quite rightly, the department store takes training very seriously and frequently carries out mystery shopper exercises to see how staff are performing, including those that are doing well and those who may need more support. The personal touch, so synonymous with the luxury of Liberty, means that staff often develop relationships with customers and Monday‘s episode took a look at some of the training around capturing the customer and building a rapport. This is of course driven by incentives – when talking about its £2,000 stuffed bear; the line manager remarked: ‘there will be something very special for the person that sells the bear.‘

Retailers that understand which of their staff perform better in which environment, at certain times of the day and with specific types of customer are able to deliver better sales. It‘s almost guaranteed that Shukla, a top sales person with 40 years‘ experience of working at Liberty, would be on the rota in at power hours.

By knowing the space, taking the time to offer adequate training and offering excellent customer service, the documentary tapped in to some of the key triggers that retailers can use to create a tailored shopping experience and develop a sense of brand loyalty. Which is perhaps why Liberty has done so well in recent months. Roll on episode two…


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