Selfridges take off

January 15, 2015

Yellow is the new black; and it has been for a number of years now. Selfridges have long led the race in the high-end retail arena. Its success has attracted the attention of many top industry execs and it was only going to be a matter of time until it expanded its offering further.

Arguably the secret of Selfridges’ success to date is in the power of their merchandising. And what do you suppose the buzzword for many of the world’s leading airlines is right now? That’s right – merchandising. Big data and insights coupled with ancillary services, fare families and responsive advertising empower airlines to take that next step. But with the competitive landscape shifting, the stage is set for the likes of the retailer.

If you’re an airline, here are five reasons why you should take note:

1) A solid brand

This isn’t just about the globally-known Pantone 109 yellow and the signature bags, it goes all the way back to Selfridges founder Harry Gordon Selfridge’s vision which was to create the finest department store in the world “where everyone is welcome”.



The new Selfridges livery features a striking ‘S’ motif on the tail fin, with an elegant stripe of their signature Pantone ‘109’ yellow across the bottom.

The clarity in their ambition and purpose has guided every decision they have taken in the development of the store and its growing presence. By keeping their principles at the core of their business, Selfridges have weathered through substantial transitions. From rebuilding through the world wars to seeing a number of ownership changes (from Sears to the current Canadian owners, Galen Weston).

Selfridges declares that ‘everyone is welcome’. This statement is not only a representation of their global and diverse customer base but also a reflection of their workforce and their employee development program.

Many airlines have become stuck in the battle of justifying whether or not they are low cost or a traditional flag carrier. With a lack of brand definition, they risk simply appearing as an airline – but one without any substantial distinction. It’s only at the very top, with the likes of Etihad, do we see a follow-through in terms of proposition, with the introduction of services like the Residence. …


2) Digital first

Selfridges will happily admit that they weren’t the first to adopt digital. But they’ll certainly follow up with the fact that they are now pretty serious about it – that’s 40 million pounds serious. Many underestimate how efficiently and effectively they can sell or serve digitally. But Selfridges take digital right into the heart of their DNA, by bridging the gap between the web and their in-store experience.


Taking a leaf out of Netflix’s book, Selfridges will be offering a best in class entertainment system, with content from their exclusive tie-ups with designers, musicians, artists and fashionistas.

Their digital journey hasn’t just given them insight about their customers’ purchase patterns, loyalty and frequency. But more importantly it has equipped their in-house teams with mobile business intelligence and access to the web, allowing them to better serve their customers.

Their digital focus is all in aid of capturing the value of mobility. They know that even in-store they need to keep their customers engaged digitally, let alone whilst out and about in their daily lives.


3) Leverage

Unlike other retailers, Selfridges isn’t just an aggregator that leverages the value of the brands it offers. The investment over time in its brand has allowed it to expand its proposition and offer beyond retail, into becoming a producer.

The ‘Selfridges Selection’ is the retailer’s boutique of over 150 products that bear their name, a range that is consistently one of the highest performing sales areas for the organisation. This isn’t just about the increase in revenues, but also the value it places in the minds and hearts of its customers.


Every detail considered, especially for the fashion conscious – every premium cabin seat will feature a hanging wardrobe.


Cabin crew will be showing off the latest looks from the world’s best designers. Different for each destination, the chosen designer will reflect the styles and collections that best resemble their location. This example shows Reiss London’s look for flight SL107 from LHR to JFK. 

No longer are their customers leaving the store with just a great experience and a shiny bag, their exposure to the brand continues at breakfast, lunch and dinner (as well as any other time you can use one of their products).

Most airlines have done what many retailers would do and re-packaged other brands into their amenity kit and offer, without realising the value of their own brand. But its important to note that there are a few exceptions – which you could argue started with the likes of British Airway’s Concorde, to a more recent example of Turkish Airlines and the launch of their new ‘We’R’ range, which reflects their heritage and the quality of their service.


4) The memories

From its inception, Selfridges has always been a destination. Not in the way in that Tesco considers itself the place to find everything and more, but somewhere where the experience and journey are truly memorable.


This lounge isn’t about WiFi or stale muffins, Selfridges has brought in its world class hair and beauty salon, as well as a day spa to make its airport service a destination not to be missed. 

Harry Selfridge was considered a born entertainer, an ethos that has continued with them to this very day. From exhibiting the world’s first ever plane or television right through to today with the ‘exhibition of everything’ featuring art from around the world. The stores have made themselves central to the communities they serve, going beyond the remit of simply a retailer.

Everything is now an occasion. From fairytales at Christmas to summer chocolates.

This is what Selfridges believes it needs to do if it is going to drive customer loyalty and succeed against the intensity of competition that exists in retail.


5) Be cool

A word not often featured in my vocabulary but is absolutely applicable in this context. Selfridges will be 106 years old this year, but shows no signs of age. It is a machine that is incredibly agile. Able to analyse trends, its customers and its inspirations every minute of the day to make sure it stays relevant.


Don’t worry about needing to attend red carpet events, each premium seat comes with it’s very own Selfridges goody bag. This is one that you don’t want to miss as its sure to be filled with exclusive merchandise. 

This might be the one factor that is the most difficult for airlines to replicate, as it takes not only an organizational mind-shift, but also the ability to change and adapt at an instant – continuously.


If you’ve made it this far then it might be important to note that Selfridges isn’t really about to launch an airline (well not to my knowledge (or yet) anyway). But it’s also important to really see the opportunities that exist in learning from a retail success story, and explore how they drive customer acquisition and retention.

So next time you’re developing your merchandising strategy, aside from turning everything yellow – think like a retailer. …


*The photoshopped images are thanks to cabins designed by PriestmanGoode for Air France and Lufthansa, they are an incredibly talented firm and have produced some of the world’s best cabins that we see and experience today.

**We’d also like to acknowledge both Selfridges and Reiss and their great work as leading industry examples.


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