Resident retail specialist Karl McKeever travels to the Copenhagen, once home to Hans Christian Andersen, and finds that despite all the global economic doom and gloom the idea that cities can fight back with imaginative retail schemes is more than just a fairy tale.
Last summer's Greek finance drama, which started the many of the current woes about some of the Euro zone economies, the Irish bailout etc, etc, has rightly unnerved European shoppers. There are also those who are speculating that more bad news is to come. And in the USA, the traditional retail powerhouse, despite all the best efforts of the Obama government and its massive programme to boost the economy, no retail rennaisance has yet materialised instore.
Now, as we welcome in 2011, many will be hoping for the resurgence of the all-important 'feel good factor' to help fragile economies bounce back and entice cautious consumers back instore.
It's was in this optimistic and forward-looking spirit that I approached this review of a city visited in the run-up to Christmas 2010.
For consumers, Christmas is associated with red and judging by many of this years window display schemes, which are fast filling up with last minute promotional activity, there is indeed a lot of red instore this year.
However, for retailers it's often called the golden quarter when money flows and sees business becoming firmly in the black. A time for buying, giving and sharing from the beautiful and surprising city of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.
Think of the Danish capital and the first thing that often springs to mind is the collection of stories from Copenhagen's most famous son, Hans Christian Andersen. Many cities tend to become defined by events, places and people in their histories, but I find that this form of geographic stereotyping can be very limiting by reinforcing historic and outdated views that offer little more than guidebook pastiches, excluding the best of what's new and happening in those places today.
This is absolutely the case with Copenhagen. For whilst the city does have a nostalgic, fairytale feel with its cobbled streets and traditional pointy roofed, Nordic architecture, the Danes are definitely amongst some of the most modern, stylish and innovative people in Europe.
As a city, Copenhagen is full of surprising firsts. In 1960 the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel opened its doors. It was the city's first five-star designer hotel and skyscraper, and was designed by legendary Danish architect Arne Jacobsen. Jacobsen also designed several pieces of the hotel's furniture and fabrics, including the famous egg and swan chairs, which quickly became design classics and are still in production today.
More recently, Coca Cola installed the first automated air tube delivery system in a 7-11 convenience store in the city. It zooms individual chilled bottles around the ceiling, direct to waiting customers at the cash desk - a crazy concept, but definitely fun to watch!
The past twelve months have witnessed some of the biggest global brands redrawing and developing their retail landscapes, taking opportunities where others have fallen out of the market. This has seen the development of innovative new store formats designed to kick-start their own fortunes in a bold show of faith, and this is something that is evident in abundance in Copenhagen.
Confirming the city's cool credentials, iconic American brand Abercrombie and Fitch selected it for the company's first continental European store in 2010, deploying the same store design style as its latest New York and Tokyo outlets.
Scandinavian mega brand H&M recently opened its latest new 'home' store concept here too. This innovative store presents products in 'gallery style' collections on the shop walls without the need for a large floor space or fancy fixturing. Shoppers take metal shopping lists and attach magnetic images of the items they want to buy. These are processed by a cashier for fulfillment from the stock room for customer's collection or delivery. It's a novel idea and time will tell if customers like this format instore.
Walking through the streets of Copenhagen, familiar European brands are nestled amongst a wide range of local Danish and Scandinavian names, with outlets of Zara, Next, Topshop, Monsoon and Accessorize delivering similar style and standards to what the consumer has become accustomed to elsewhere on the continent.
However, for me, one of the very best stores around is the design department store, Illums Bolighus, which stands in the main Amagertorv Street alongside the Royal Copenhagen store and leading luxury brand store Georg Jensen.
Illums and Bolighus was founded in 1925 with the intention of creating a store concept that had never been seen before; comprising interior design, textiles, furniture and art. The resulting business has helped to form a reputation for Scandinavians as pioneers of good taste and modern design.
Since its opening, the trendsetting and visionary displays at Illums Bolighus have been a hallmark for the store, showcasing products and trends in an attractive and inspiring shopping environment. This season is no exception, windows feature a traditional Nordic style using sky blue, pine trees and frosty white.
But, Copenhagen is not just a city full of stylish stores for grown ups. Given its proximity to Lapland, a certain Mr Claus will find Copenhagen an ideal place to pick up some additional stocking fillers should difficulties arise with his supply chain!
Leading toy retailer Hamleys, which already has several concession outlets in the Danish department store chain Magasin, is preparing to open a large store in the city's main shopping area. This impressive, three-floor corner site is opening with a temporary shop fit in the run up to Christmas in the former Natuzzi store. It's a smart move for Hamleys, as next door, Lego will open an amazing new store before the year is out, and only a few doors away is a large branch of popular Danish toy chain BR.
After shopping, young and old alike can enjoy a treat at the famous Tivoli gardens. Here, they have a beautiful Christmas market and fun fair, as well as an entertainment venue. Food vendors provide a warm welcome in the chilly Scandinavian air, lit in twinkling white lights from early afternoon.
Grabbing a quick bite to eat can be a fun experience in Copenhagen. I stopped in one of the branches of coffee house Joe & the Juice and, unlike 'corporate' coffee chains, this outfit is very cool indeed. The servers are young and spirited and loud music pumps out of their iPods at a dizzying volume. The across-the-counter banter is spontaneous and full on! The food is innovative, casual and eaten in what could easily pass as student accommodation. The whole experience is unconventional but uplifting and with several outlets around the city, including the airport, you can be sure to see one.
For a different experience, you can grab a coffee and a freshly iced cupcake in Agnes Cupcakes, a store that sells nothing else! And, for a longer break, there are fantastic bakeries and coffee houses selling luxury breads, sandwiches, pastries and drinks - providing welcome relief from the biting cold outside.
The least positive aspect about shopping in Copenhagen is the prices. This part of the world has always been expensive when compared to the rest of Europe, with the currencies of Norway, Sweden and Finland making the region one of the least affordable to indulge in impulse goodies.
However, when it comes to the airport, the Danish Krone goes much further, especially when you compare it to other European airports with their often mediocre retail offerings. The many quality stores at the capital's travel hub are comparable to the choice on offer in the city, with brands such as Boss, Mont Blanc, Hermes and Illums & Bolighus all having bite-sized stores with travel friendly goodies to pick up on the way to your gate.
Overall, the city is a great example of showing that to compete, you firstly have to define the proposition. Copenhagen stands its ground on quality and high style in the coldest of climates and does so in a charming and authentic way.