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‘Creativity and Innovation’ Helped Selfridges Survive 2020

While 2020 proved trying for brands and retailers across the globe, for some, performance the year prior set the stage for a quicker recovery.

According to Selfridges, the strength of its 2019 sales helped the business weather the ensuing challenges of the past 10 months.

The year ending Feb. 2020 served up 1.97 billion pounds in sales (about $2.7 billion), up 7 percent from the previous year, the British retailer said. Selfridges invested heavily in its stores and e-commerce channels in 2019, which was reflected in its 88 million pound ($120.4 million) operating profit, down 10 percent from the previous year.

“I am very pleased with our strong and resilient performance in 2019,” managing director Anne Pitcher said in a statement. “It was a year of creativity and innovation which brought exciting new experiences to our customers and set us on the path to change the future of retail.”

In 2019, Selfridges set out to be “more than a shop” by blending entertainment and new consumer services into its offerings. The company described the launch of a 22,000-square-foot toy shop in London, an accessories hall in Manchester featuring 170 brands, and an in-store cinema at one London location that augmented the typical browsing and buying experience with a silver screen. It also unveiled beauty concierge services across a number of U.K. stores.

On the digital side, Selfridges said it upgraded its inventory systems and rolled out operational tools like Microsoft Teams. It also expanded its e-commerce channel to serve over 130 countries, which it said ultimately “helped offset the lack of international travel” the following year.

Pitcher characterized 2020 as “exceptionally difficult” for the company, but said that Selfridges entered the year in a “strong position” thanks to its 2019 financials.  “We acknowledge that recovery will be slow, with sales this year forecast to be significantly less than they were in 2019,” she added, adding however that “Selfridges is set up for a long, sustainable future.”

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The company launched its Project Earth suite of environmental initiatives, like resale, repair and rentals, along with debuting product capsules featuring Earth-friendly materials and design, “after two years of planning and over a decade of impactful sustainability initiatives,” Pitcher said. The effort elevates the company’s sustainability commitments and sets clear targets for the future, she added. In 2019, Selfridges also became the first department store to ban exotic animal skins from its offerings.

Things began looking up for the retailer during the 2020 holiday season, despite government-mandated restrictions on physical businesses that took effect in November and again in December, it said. Regularly scheduled visits with an in-store Santa were moved online, providing 245 families with complimentary dial-a-Santa appointments. E-commerce performance proved a bright spot even as “in-store trading was challenging,” with a record number of shoppers (double 2019 figures) purchasing gift-wrapped orders online. “Elfridges” Christmas-themed styling services, which took place via video calls, were introduced, accounting for 22 percent of all gifting appointments. Meanwhile, sales of Christmas-themed “hampers” or gift baskets grew by half from the year prior.

“Throughout the pandemic, our key priority has been the health and wellbeing of our customers and team members and that has been the focus of much of our activity over the past few months,” Pitchers said. “We have remained agile and flexible all while delivering the very best.”