I’ve been reading about the wonders of Burberry’s flagship London store and its whizz bang technology for years. So now that I’m living in London for a few months, I decided to check it out. There are limits to how glamorous I can look in my leg cast and mobility scooter, but I figured that would add to the test. My concession was to put on makeup and wear a jacket. I went with my friend and fellow marketer, Sharon Bell, who did have a bit of the tourist look, given her comfy (though new and pristine clean) running shoes.
Burberry’s elegant Regent Street flagship store in London is in an 1820 building that was at one time a church and at another a movie theatre. Apparently the church organ is hidden behind the giant screen that takes centre stage, but a staffer assured me that they do keep it maintained, even though they have not used it.
Because of the age and history of the building, it is divided into many split levels. This makes for several elegant and cozy settings, but also makes navigating by wheelchair something of an adventure. There is no one elevator that will take you to every level, and the lifts (elevators) are in different parts of the store.
Most challenging is that many of the elevators are designed with the entry and exit doors at right angles. The one that went to the washroom level was literally impossible to get out of when I got there. My scooter simply could not make the sharp turn in the space available. There is no question that they had difficult constraints to work with, but this does make me think, yet again, that all architects and designers should have to spend some time in wheelchairs and scooters before they graduate.
The Technology Does Not Live Up To The Hype
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see that the technology seemed to be limited to screens scattered around the shop showing video clips of models wearing Burberry clothes. I was looking for interactive elements and found none.
In fact, when I asked a staff member about where the high tech was, he said, “Oh, you are probably looking for the magic mirrors. People often ask about that. They are not in use at the moment.”
When I asked why, he tried to explain that it had not yet been loaded with the new season’s wares, but that lacked credibility. I assume it simply isn’t working. Or not working well enough to justify keeping it live. Clearly, no matter how much money you spend, tech under-delivers on its promises for every business. (Sorry tech vendors!)
But The Burberry Staff Are Outstanding!
The real magic of the place lies with its staff. I must find out more about how they are hired and trained. They were all superb.
The only slight glitch was with the first person who greeted us upon entering the store. When we asked about how we could get down to see the gallery collection, which is the showpiece of the store, exhibiting the latest runway fashions, he said that it was not accessible by wheelchair/scooter. He was wrong. A lovely staffer on the top floor told us that there was a hidden elevator that would get us there, and that he’d be happy to take us to it when we were ready.
Clearly staff have been taught that you do not just tell a customer about something, you take them to it and stay with them, regardless of whether or not it is in your section of the store. And they have been given enough training that they can be helpful to you, no matter where in the store you are.
Elevator Magic (Or Not)
We didn’t go back up to get him when we were ready, but Andrea, a lovely staffer who turned out to be from the cosmetics section, saw that we were looking uncertain and came to ask if she could help with anything. She told us that since the secret lift hadn’t been used in a while, she wanted to get it checked out by other staff before we got into it. In the meantime, she’d be happy to bring us each a glass of champagne, while we waited. Okay, that worked for me!
Just as well she did. Turned out that even Burberry isn’t immune to Britain’s lifts problem.
Before long there was a crowd of employees around the elevator which had magically arisen from a secret chamber normally hidden by the floor.
At one point they got the glass doors to open, Sharon and I went in, but the lift wouldn’t budge.
More people came, including the store manager, Sy, who bravely agreed to be the guinea pig once they thought they had it figured out.
And, indeed, millimetre by slow millimetre he descended out of view, and eventually resurfaced.
For my next try, Andrea and Sharon took the champagne glasses and went down the stairs while I entered the glass booth alone.
I had a slight moment of concern when the lower level doors didn’t seem to be opening, but eventually they did, and we had a lovely time, checking out the fashions.
Andrea beautifully managed the subtle art of being present whenever you might want her but not seeming overbearing or pushy in the slightest.
She was so lovely I had a brief moment of being tempted by the $8,000 coat I tried on. Fortunately my size was out of stock!
The Grande Finale
However, while the food was beautifully prepared and presented, and the staff as attentive as elsewhere in the store, I was relieved to discover that the prices were not out of line with other nearby lunch spots.
Whew! It’s going to take a lot of “budget” lunches to pay for an $8,000 coat!