February 3, 2023

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Exclusive: I visited the new Harrods Outlet in Westfield

The front of the new Harrods Outlet
The front of the new Harrods Outlet

Had you passed by Westfield White City this morning, you’d have noticed a queue of over 300 impeccably dressed shoppers winding around the building at two-metre intervals. They were waiting for 11am and the grand opening of Harrods Outlet, the new outpost of the iconic Knightsbridge store, which has been designed expressly for social distancing. 

Truly a project of the Covid-19 era, Harrods Outlet was developed from concept to opening in just five weeks – but is it the future of luxury shopping?

For many, it certainly seems so. I spotted shoppers wearing sought-after pieces such as ‘old’ Céline cat-eye sunglasses, a Comme des Garcons bomber jacket and a plethora of JW Anderson t-shirts, Chanel jackets and Prada handbags.

The crowd was noticeably young, cool and fashion forward, and a nervous energy was building – everything inside the vast, glossy, white store is on sale, at a 40-60{a38ddb2ded6b05e28c8ae73a8db0e271c21f7193684bd9e4e28acae292f81d99} discount. Items from past seasons have an even lower price point. I spotted a pair of Malone Souliers mules for £65 (originally £445) and a Max Mara camel coat at £1,550 (originally £2,585). 

Theresa, Palesa and Doll, three young women from north London, headed up the front of the queue, which they had started at 7:50am – over three hours ahead of opening.

Palesa, who was wearing a lime green bubble dress, had heard about the new outlet from a sales assistant in the Knightsbridge store while shopping for a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes. The trio dashed to the shoe section the moment the store opened and I later found Palesa clutching a pink beaded pair of Manolos for under £300, looking ecstatic. 

The displays are geared towards young, fashion-forward shoppers
The displays are geared towards young, fashion-forward shoppers

“This store is in keeping with the times,” Theresa told me – and the vast queue behind her was testament to it. If there is anything positive to take from the current pandemic, it’s that companies have been forced to innovate. In this case, Londoners have gained a new luxurious shopping spot to rejoice over. 

While Harrods Knightsbridge reopened on July 15, along with other luxury retailers in the UK, this new boutique is part of the brand’s strategy to manage social distancing and enhance customer experience as we enter the ‘new normal’ during sale season.

The original store may have been enjoying popularity, but its reduced capacity of 4,500 compared to the usual 80,000 poses obvious restrictions that will be somewhat offset by the opening of Harrods Outlet, which can host 365 customers at a time. 

The store front of the new Harrods Outlet
The store front of the new Harrods Outlet

“Harrods Outlet is an innovative decision made in response to these unparalleled times,” says Lydia King, Fashion Director at Harrods. “The impending return to a ‘new normal’ came with challenges, specifically how Harrods was going to maintain social distancing during the busy sale period, particularly in a historic, listed building. Opening Harrods Outlet provided an opportunity to retail the existing season’s products responsibly.”

The futuristic space is two stories high at the heart of Westfield, but it stays true to the brand’s tradition thanks to vast installations of green and gold Harrods boxes at the entrance and a wallpaper print featuring illustrations of Harrods doormen in the socially distanced changing rooms. Indeed, carrying on its 171-year legacy is at the centre of this new project. 

An installation of Harrods boxes fronts the store
An installation of Harrods boxes fronts the store

“Much of the magic at Harrods comes from the beautiful, premium collections within the store, and that has been carried through to Harrods Outlet,” says King. “The meticulously curated collections that have been in the Knightsbridge store over the past couple of months will be showcased in Harrods Outlet, giving those customers a similar sense of luxury.”

The 80,000 sq ft boutique features an exclusive edit of the current season’s fashion, beauty, accessories and homeware from the Harrods sale. “Customers will find everything from summer dresses to coats and must-have accessories,” says King. 

It is clear that the team has curated this store to target a younger demographic than you might find in Knightsbridge.

While there is a strong showing from long-established designer names such as Balmain, Stella McCartney, Max Mara, Tom Ford and Chloé, there is significant space dedicated to newer brands such as Ganni, Melissa Odabash and Off White. The mannequins are dressed in gold mini dresses, pink denim two-pieces and mint green trench coats. 

The men's collection at Harrods Outlet
The men’s collection at Harrods Outlet

Shopping at the store is designed to be every bit as magnificent as is expected from Harrods, whilst remaining as safe as possible – and with such a clean, large space it’s certainly heading for a good start. There are a number of measures in place to ensure safety and flow, which Harrods has already tested in its Knightsbridge store.

Customers are asked to remain two metres apart, and generally speaking they seemed to comply. Around half were wearing facemasks and footfall is monitored to ensure that distancing can be maintained. When capacity is reached, new customers are asked to wait outside the store. 

The lifts in the new store
The lifts in the new store

The layout of the store itself allows far more room in between clothing rails than you would usually expect, which not only fits with the times but allows for a more relaxing, luxurious experience. While all of the staff were wearing green Harrods facemasks, they were as forthcoming and eager to greet and offer help as ever. 

Signage directs customers and employees safely around the store, from the entrance downstairs to the exit upstairs. Changing rooms, to my surprise, were on offer and subject to meticulous cleaning, and the checkouts were constructed like booths, customer separated from cashier and other shoppers by transparent screens.

There is a luggage section on the ground floor
There is a luggage section on the ground floor

The Harrods team explained that it has put together an enhanced cleaning program, which includes hand sanitiser stations established across the store and at entrance and exit points. 

As customers flock back to grand addresses and revenge buying becomes a bona fide trend, King is optimistic about luxury retail flourishing in the post lockdown landscape.

“Our Knightsbridge store reopening was guided by feedback from our clients, excited to return and access our products and services and we will continue to listen to our clients and tailor our approach as attitudes and wishes further evolve,” she says. 

While she has great hopes for Harrods Outlet, King also sees new opportunities online. “Being creative and working innovatively throughout the past three months has allowed both the industry and ourselves to be imaginative in the way that we connect with our customers,” she says.

“The phenomenal demand our digital channels experienced while our doors were closed forced us to rethink how we can bring the special experiences, pop-ups and exclusive collections that customers find in store, to harrods.com.”

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