Harvey Nichols first opened in Knightsbridge in 1831 and since then it has led the way in sourcing the most desirable and cutting-edge designer brands. Here, RLI sits down with Chief Operating Officer Manju Malhotra to discuss how the brand has changed and grown in the time she has been on board.
The story of Harvey Nichols is part of the fabric of the modern luxury retail market. Founded by original entrepreneur Benjamin Harvey, the company started life as a linen shop and ten years later, James Nichols joined the business, marrying Harvey’s niece in 1848. Rapid expansion followed and the ambitious pair had soon taken over the whole block, and the iconic store that we all know and love today was built in 1889 following the demolition of the original block.
“Today we have 12 Harvey Nichols stores across six countries, plus Beauty Bazaar, a unique, stand-alone beauty concept store,” explains Manju Malhotra, Chief Operating Officer. “We also run the world-famous Oxo Tower restaurant, and an exclusive Harvey Nichols own label food and drink brand, which is also available via Ocado, as well as in our stores.”
In the last 12 months the company has seen real growth in its e-commerce revenue and innovation which has driven the success of its multi-channel offer. An example of this is its partnership with Farfetch which meant they were the first department store on the platform. This has helped them to keep at the top of its game and evolve with its customer base, as well as its marketplace which gives customers access to a broader range of brands online.
“Our most recent developments have been in the e-commerce space and we now ship to more than 200 countries globally. Our last bricks-and-mortar development reflected the shift in consumer needs – Beauty Bazaar, a dedicated beauty concept store. We will continue to see the shift towards a multi-channel offer and innovative concepts to enhance our portfolio,” explains Malhotra. Harvey Nichols is currently working on some exciting developments. For example its new Fragrance Room has recently opened and is already proving extremely popular as they continue to enhance its flagship Knightsbridge store. They are also expanding its renowned beauty offer, including the first physical incarnation of Beauty Pie and are very proud of the number of firsts they have brought to the UK and Europe. One of the biggest investments this year is continuing to enhance its tech infrastructure and online proposition. They’ve had incredible feedback from innovations such as their digital personal shopping service as they know that customers will continue to need modern, digital access in addition to the in-store shopping experience.
“The breadth of the online market really excites me, and among our markets we continue to see strong performance in Hong Kong as we leverage our physical store presence. Of course, the US market remains constant as our consumer knows the brand well, but for me, the emerging markets, particularly Japan and South Korea, are the ones to watch and we are seeing an increase in customer base from these countries,” says Malhotra.
With a unique history of launching new-to-market brands and services, Harvey Nichols prides themselves on offering its customers something they cannot find elsewhere. They think of themselves as a large boutique rather than a department store, and this provides the flexibility and fluidity of space for them to discover and bring in new brands and trends across fashion, beauty and increasingly, food and drink.
On the topic of social media, Malhotra explains that they talk to their customer segment groups using the appropriate communication channels and says that the likes of Facebook and Instagram have a huge reach and relevance in today’s market. “It’s an integrated part of any communications and marketing strategy and plays an extremely important role in talking to our community.” Staying relevant and evolving with its customer base is one of the biggest drives of success for Harvey Nichols. From the evolution of its physical stores, to the expansion of its lifestyle proposition and e-commerce, they are never afraid to move with the times whilst keeping the same pioneering spirit that created the company all those years ago.
“Our ethos and culture are two of the defining features of our brand. People describe our organisation as like a family, for many of our team, brands and partners, it feels like an extension of their own family,” says Malhotra. Looking ahead, Malhotra highlights that she is passionate about sustainability and wants to continue the good work that has been going on in the last 18 months in this department. She also believes the business is still on its technology transformation journey as they make sure they are fit for the future and continue to modernise.
“At Harvey Nichols we are all about creating sensational experiences around our irresistible products. We believe in behaving responsibly and have developed a steering committee drawn from all areas of the business, to ensure that we are proactively working towards making positive environmental and social impacts. This is at the heart of everything we do and believe. We are a best-loved British brand; and for that we are so proud and hugely grateful,” concludes Malhotra.
Since this interview took place the impact of the COVID-19 virus situation has rapidly escalated across the UK and wider markets.