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The good, the bad & the ugly: Part 1

How four stores achieved the highest Shopwatch scores in 2012.

One of the things about writing a weekly review of stores and trying to do so from an informed shopper’s perspective is that patterns become apparent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the stores visited in 2012 emerged with a median score - somewhere between 36 and 38 out of 50.

This is perfectly respectable and may even be said to be on the high side. It might reflect the fact that retailers are having to work harder for their buck than previously, resulting in an overall raising of standards. On the other hand, while this is commendable, it is the stores towards the top and bottom of the ratings over a given period that are more likely to raise eyebrows.

So for the next two weeks we look at the best of the best over the past 12 months and then consider those that managed to plumb the depths. This might be to ignore the middle ground, but it is the polar opposites that say much about the overall fashion retail landscape.

Just four stores scored 40/50 or higher, with Sarah Coggles (now rebranded as simply Coggles) in York garnering the highest number, at 43, followed by the men’s shoe department at Selfridges, launched in November. After this, Religion in Notting Hill and the new Burberry flagship on Regent Street managed a 40.

Coggles, York: 43/50

Sarah Coggles, York

Sarah Coggles, York

What all four share is attention to detail. At the top of the tree, Coggles is an independent retailer in the heart of a cathedral city. It knows its shoppers and is a store that is about relationship building - a trait that marks out the best indies from the purely run-of-the-mill.

It is also a store that is concerned with editing. If you want to see a selection of Comme des Garçons for men, for example, then a canny eye has been cast over the range and pieces have been selected that will have both popular appeal and accessibility in terms of price.

And that perhaps is rather the point. Naturally, Coggles has a lot of better-end product, but here is also much that would fall into the ‘self-treating’ category for a broader audience.

Now couple this with the use made of a listed building, turning relative adversity to advantage. York is an ancient city and the Coggles shop forms part of that fabric with an interior that is half-timbered, in parts, and which is also characterised by a series of connecting small spaces. Normally this might be seen as a problem, but instead each area in the shop has been used to create a different merchandise zone and each has its own appeal.

The men’s shoe department at Selfridges: 42/50

Selfridges men's shoe department

Selfridges men’s shoe department

There has been something of an arms race among department stores to unveil the biggest women’s shoe departments, with Saks, Macy’s, KaDeWe in Berlin and Selfridges all vying, at various times, for the title of biggest and, of course, best. With men’s footwear, however, the trend is less clear - probably because men tend to buy fewer pairs of shoes than women.

The opening of the men’s footwear department at Selfridges is therefore something of a mark in the sand.

This is a very large area, with separate, semi-discrete spaces for brands such as Paul Smith, Converse and sundry Italian labels. There is even a space at the back of the department for bespoke men’s shoes - a sub-department where amounts may be tallied in thousands rather than hundreds of pounds.

There is an upscale men’s shoe shop in Harrods that does more or less the same job, but the Selfridges version does benefit from the high ceilings and a generous amount of natural daylight thanks to the windows at the rear of the department.

Burberry, Regent Street: 40/50

Burberry, Regent Street

Burberry, Regent Street

This is the store that opened in the early autumn and which was intended to act as a global flagship for the brand. The building it has occupied was formerly a Habitat, but there is no trace of that brief sojourn (the furniture retailer lasted for just under five years in this location). Now, the refurbished interior is a performance space, courtesy of an outsize digital screen that dominates a large atrium, a digital hub (there are iPads wherever you look and all of the staff pack a tablet to help the luxury shopper) and a beautiful shop.

The theory is that Burberry is in the vanguard of the retail digital revolution and that, among other things, this store is reflective of the strategy. Once you have marvelled at the mirrors in the fitting rooms that morph into screens with content relating to the garment you have selected to try on, there is also the spectacle of a very early 20th-century neo-classical edifice that has been restored (and almost improved) to its former glory.

This is a store at which money has been thrown, but the outcome is a luxury interior that can tackle all-comers in the luxury sector.

Religion, Notting Hill: 40/50

Religion, Notting Hill

Religion, Notting Hill

Although sometimes unfairly spoken of as a shopping destination that no longer measures up to the likes of modish Shoreditch or brand-full Bond Street, Notting Hill still has much to commend it. And the fact that a store from the area joined the 40-plus group at the top of the Shopwatch league last year speaks volumes.

Little needs to be said about Religion, other than it was among the best small shops visited in 2012 and that it is broadly representative of a part of London where retail excellence continues to be found (although there are exceptions, as next week’s review of the less ostensibly attractive or appealing stores will show with Notting Hill’s Sandro Homme, which received the year’s lowest score).

Religion offers good service in an interior where the product is as good as the store environment.

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