Secret Shopper: Chanel’s London flagship on Bond Street
Shopping shouldn’t really get much better than this, should it? Nonetheless it is with some trepidation that I approached the front door of this most hallowed of fashion stores on London’s swankiest shopping street.
Unable to face the task of purchasing an outrageously expensive pair of shoes (purely in the interests of research) on my own, I have enlisted the support of my co-founder and shopping enabler Antony Hawman in this task.
The trepidation, however, is not really about the obscene amount of money I’m about to drop, but on whether or not the experience will be a good one. Will they take us seriously? Will they be friendly? Will they be efficient? Will they behave as though they are grateful we have chosen to spend our hard-earned cash there and not at say, Dior, a couple of doors down?
Can there be anything worse in shopping terms than buying a special one-off purchase in your life and being made to feel like an inconsequence? I say this because I’ve been made to feel like this by Chanel before (I was practically ghosted in Chanel in Selfridges on my own birthday once and decided to teach them a lesson by buying a handbag – but the lesson wasn’t “treat people badly and they will still spend money”, which I admit may have been the message they took from that sorry episode).
However, the staff at Bond Street redeemed the brand and its approach to customer service in my eyes and the experience was not only pleasant and efficient (if a bit faffy at times), but, entertaining and fun, and I really wasn’t expecting that at all.
It’s Bond Steet, it’s expensive, it’s exactly what you would expect.
The windows and entrance
I’ve never been a massive fan of Chanel fashion, as it happens. Shoes, bags and jewellery, I would sell my Granny for (she’s long since passed, so it’s not an option) but the clothes have never really done it for me. However, the display of fashion was very inviting. It looked contemporary, wearable and no doubt completely unaffordable. The full length windows are stunning and allow for full unencumbered views of the displays. I want to go in straight away now, but this is Chanel and you can’t just walk in.
The obligatory velvet rope was in position outside and no one else was about. We peer into the entrance and the ground floor looks more or less deserted. We look expectantly at the security guard positioned outside. He doesn’t move to open the door. “Do we have to get in the queue?” I ask pointing at the invisible queue. Apparently so. About 45 seconds later, he opens the door and cheerily invites us in. It’s weird but we smile and waft past him.
I’m sure I’ll be told that they were still practising Covid protocol, or they only let people in if there is someone free to serve them, but I don’t really think either of those things were true. It just feels like a bit of a performance.
The Store Fit & Displays
This is, as you would expect, a lovely store. It’s all light colours and gold accents with some shiny dark marble. It’s very Peter Marino and that’s no surprise since he’s the New York based architect Chanel turned to for the store’s design in 2013.
The central feature of the store is its gold-edge staircase which is vast and it gives the shopper a real sense of occasion when they walk up and down it. And we had to walk up it as we were politely ushered upstairs from the bag department on the ground floor when we asked where the shoes were located.
I must admit, despite the no doubt incredibly expensive fixtures and fittings, the store didn’t feel as breathtaking as I expected, though a pearl necklace structure – a nod to a key Chanel house code – that runs up the staircase, is stunning. But it does all have the feel of a global flagship store roll-out rather than something very specific to the house (obviously bar the necklace structure) or to its location. The Dior store close by does a far better job of showing off the product and architecturally inside it feels more sympathetic to the historic nature of the store.
The Product & Service
Anyway, we’re here for shoes which are all conveniently located in one area on the first floor and displayed in various shelves, recesses and a table in a fairly narrow department. Part of it is a bit dark and I don’t think it sets the product off to best effect. It’s almost like the shoes disappear into the wall in certain areas.
However, it’s the buzziest bit of the store as what mostly appeared to be wealthy American and Asian customers tried on the shoe of the season “the Dad sandal” which was only available in niche sizes and in pink. Chanel is big on using product scarcity to drive demand, but I can’t help thinking it also misses out on loads of sales in the process.
I pass on the dad sandals (while the product is scarce, it all seems to have ended up in the hands, or rather on the feet, of social media influencers – I imagine they have Chanel store associates who reserve the best stock for them – and I must admit, I find that and the Instagram over-exposure somewhat irksome). Instead, I lay my hands on a pair of flatform sandals with rope and quilted leather straps bearing the Chanel branding across the front strap. I hadn’t actually come in to look at these but was searching for some other sandals that I had seen online but could not see in the store.
The most frustrating thing about shopping at Chanel (apart from being ghosted on your birthday) is it only updates its website once or twice a season with new styles that may or may not be available in-store. In my experience, for the most part, they are not available. And, even if they are available, unless you have tiny or large feet, you can forget it.
I know the whole keeping stock rare, making it hard to track things down gig is all part of the Chanel charade – like standing next to a velvet rope at the entrance for no good reason – but it really is high time this brand got with the times digitally. Fair enough if you don’t want to sell online (well not really, but I’ll let that slide for now) but at least have the whole collection available to view online with the possibility of being able to see which store has which product. (Dior does this brilliantly – and it also sells online! Imagine that? In 2022!)
Anyway, I love the shoes that I’ve found and the one on display is my size, I look around warily to see if anyone will help me or ghost me. An assistant who is helping another customer spots me. “Is that your size?” he asks. When I reply yes, he cheerily invites me to sit down and go ahead and try it on while he’s dealing with another customer.
As soon as he can he dashes off to get me the other shoe but not before he’s entered into an amusing exchange with his co-worker about the fact that he keeps selling products from her display and that she’ll have to replenish it as they can’t have gaps on the shelves. They have a bit of a jokey tiff and theatrically roll their eyes at each other.
Anyway, the other shoe is on soon enough and I stand up in them but feel a bit scared to move. “Go for a walk!” the store associate says with an encouraging wave of the hand as though I am an infant taking their first steps. “Go over there, walk some more, there’s more space!” he encourages. “They look good with your outfit!”
I love the shoes and decide to take them, despite them costing £%&X! (I can’t bring myself to type it) and the shoes, my shopping side-kick and I are ushered off to a holding pen where people are waiting to pay. As we’re crossing the floor the associate tries a bit of upselling. “Would you like a tweed jacket, we have some very nice ones?” Of course, they do, they are Chanel, but I’m also living off baked beans for the rest of the month and when I tell him as much he laughs and takes us straight to the holding pen, which is a pleasant area containing beige sofas and fragrance samples you can try while waiting.
Purchases are taken out the back for wrapping and customers sit on said sofas waiting to be called into a further payment room (it’s beginning to feel like some sort of weird video game quest where only the best customers make it to the final inner room) to complete their purchase and be handed their goods in a rather solemn ceremony.
We’re not sure how long this will take and my co-founder and co-shopper is a bit hot, so asks for water. “Of course!” chirps the store associate. “Still or sparkling?” “Oh, tap is fine.” Frankly he may have just asked for dirty dish water to drink given the look of horror this evinces. Needless to say, we are not given tap water but two perfectly chilled glass bottles of mineral water wrapped in napkins.
While it’s nice hanging out here for a bit, again, it does feel like a bit of a needless faff. Some minutes later, I’m called into the final inner room and invited to pay. I have successfully completed the quest but instead of winning points, I’m deducted £%&X!. My beautifully wrapped shoes are handed over and as we head back to the Peter Marino staircase, both of the store associates in the shoe department spot us and shout cheery goodbyes across the floor and wave to us.
“See you soon!” they say. If I had a lot more money, then they probably would see me soon but as it stands all I can say is I would gladly go back, but I don't know when. It was genuinely good fun.
It was an outrageously expensive experience in an outrageously expensive store and apart from being made to queue outside for no good reason, it was a genuinely warm and personal experience without a hint of snobbery. The store itself felt like it was lacking a bit of theatre (gorgeous as it was) but the staff filled that void.
However, I just can’t help thinking we really have gone beyond the point of a luxury brand having a website that doesn’t show you an entire collection and doesn’t give you the chance to reserve stock in-store (or at least see that it’s there before you make the effort to go). Maybe Chanel feels it doesn’t have to because we all lose our minds when we go in their stores and spend money anyway. But a true luxury experience in 2022 is digitally enabled. Dior gets it, I just wish Chanel would too.