Legend has it that American retail entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge was inspired to open his famous emporium in London’s Oxford Street during a visit to the city in 1906 - a shop assistant told him to leave when Selfridge said he was ‘just looking’.
The figures make impressive reading: he invested £400,000 in the new store; an advertising campaign costing £36,000 launched the venture, drawing 150,000 people to visit the huge sales area on the first day – the first week saw more than 1 million shoppers and browsers. And there was Selfridge ’s secret, the idea of shopping as a leisure activity, not just buying necessities; everyone welcome even if they have no intention to buy as they just might once inside. Staff – and there were 1000 of them – were trained to be pleasant not pushy. It was supposedly Selfridge who coined the phrase: “The customer is always right.”
With the luxurious scents wafting from the perfume counter near the entrance, the elegance of the building – its load-bearing steel structure still illegal at the time in London - its iconic sculpture over the front door, a quiet-room for recuperation, and liveried lift-attendants, the store was a destination in itself; it was in effect our first mall.
Selfridge increased his self-made fortune, but was eventually brought low by the Depression. The man who had once lived in Berkeley Square, and leased Hampshire’s Highcliffe Castle, ended his days in less-than-opulent circumstances in Putney .
The year 1909 was doubly important in our retail history, by the way. In November the first Woolworth’s in Britain opened in Liverpool to similar acclaim.
More famous dates here
5368 views since 17th February 2011
On this day: