Worthy of royalty?
El Palacio De Hierro, which translates as ‘The Iron Palace’, is a market leader chain across Mexico. In Mexico City, it certainly has a firm hold on the title of most exceptional department store. Targeting the luxury shopper, its store in Mexico City’s Polanco district reopened its doors in November 2015 after a $300million remodelling, representing the largest investment in the retailer’s 125-year history.
The premium quality of the store is indisputable, even before setting foot inside. The store itself is huge, and takes up a whole city block with its astounding architecture. Orange coloured bricks, pointed triangular sides and turret make this building wholeheartedly unique and both a landmark and focal point in its own right. It’s hard to miss and in truth, you wouldn’t want to – there is a reason that this is the place where all of the best international brands want to be seen.
Strangely, across most of the retail space, the store experience feels more mall than a department store. Bakeries, butchers, confectionery retailers and renowned restaurants can all be found inside, expanding out onto a large terrace area where shoppers can eat food purchased from the store or surrounding restaurants. It’s a very interesting and well-executed concept. The food hall itself is exquisite with exceptionally high standards and this is by far the best-maintained area in the store. A beautiful array of wines, spirits and champagnes can also be found here.
Elsewhere, each floor of the store allocates space for various departments. The area for apparel brands has all of the usual suspects – Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Dior, and Chloé, among others. Although the shopping experience is rather conventional, a sense of premium quality comes from the organised collections of like-minded brands assembled into rooms. Young and contemporary brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, G Star and Diesel all have their own ‘mini-space’. This is repeated across womenswear and less extensive kidswear department. It’s more than shopping your favourite brands and instead provides you with what you want exactly where you want it.
Rather than flowing like a traditional department store, in a linear and predictable way, the journey in-store is a voyage of discovery around each and every twist and turn – if you shop around quickly, you will miss a lot of what is on offer. But if you spend time here and really make it a destination you will gradually uncover the very best of this store.
It’s clear that El Palacio De Hierro isn’t intended to be just a shop. Instead, it’s an experience – something that many retailers should learn from. It’s a place to spend the day, and where the right product, in the right place, in the right environment has all come together to create a fantastic retail experience. The store vision has been translated extremely well in terms of space and which brands are adjacent to which. On a conceptual level it has been exceptionally well done.
Going back to the brand’s heritage and roots, this has always been a pioneering business – taking risks, being bold. They are able to do what they do because they have an extremely good platform of brand values that are still maintained today allowing them to build on their success in a way that other brands and other stores have been less successful with. While many established department stores around the world continue to clearly struggle with who they are and who they want to be, El Palacio De Hierro – along with the likes of John Lewis and Selfridges here in the UK – once again demonstrates that, with a definite view of identity and purpose, comes success.
Sadly, with the exception of the food hall, the store is let down by poor merchandise and presentation standards. It highlights an issue that many retailers often fall guilty of – gearing financial commitment too heavily towards store design and shop fit and forsaking investment in effective visual merchandising implementation. El Palacio De Hierro has done a great job at creating a fantastic retail environment but actually, unless teams are trained effectively to maintain the store standards, the effort will be all for nothing. Across the store’s many retail spaces it needs to remain consistent – a premium quality to product, space and presentation to keep the whole store in sync. Perhaps with that, The Iron Palace would deserve its very own crown.