Tax Free Travel guide to Harrods
Few would quibble that Harrods remains the most famous department store in the world. Ever since 1849 its enormous 5-acre site on Brompton Road in west London’s posh neighbourhood of Knightsbridge has been selling a cornucopia of upmarket goodies to the rich, famous and upwardly mobile. From fine wines and smoked salmon to bridal gowns and fine porcelain China, you name it and they probably sell it.
In recent years Harrods has become a magnet for well-heeled visitors to London from China, Japan, the Middle East, the US and Russia. In fact, the store is a must-see attraction for most overseas visitors to the capital. As many as 300,000 customers flock to the seven-floor department store on peak days and periods such as the run up to Christmas and the New Year sales. They are served by an small army of over 5,000 staff, who pamper to customers’ every whim, whether it is indulging in a luxury spa session; organising a wedding party, getting an antique watch fixed or your hair done. Shoppers can even charter a jet or buy real gold bars straight off the shelf!
Harrods is of course a famous British institution, but the department store has been in foreign hands for decades. Outspoken, football-loving Egyptian businessman Al Fayed bought the business back in 1985. His colourfully blunt use of the English language and his bitter feuds with the British establishment arguably brought the Harrods name the wrong kind of media attention. In 2010, however, Al Fayed decided to retire, selling Harrods to the Qatari royal family for a cool £1.5 billion.
With a brand as instantly recognisable around the world as Harrods it was perhaps inevitable that the retailer would branch out into travel-retail. In fact, the department store has had a firm base at London Heathrow for over a decade, and while some Harrods airports shops have come and gone (unsuccessful stores opened at both Manchester and Toronto airports), travellers can still find Harrods outlets as far as from Knightsbridge as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. There is even a floating branch on all three of Cunard’s luxury cruise liners.
All four of Heathrow’s terminals (T1, T3, T4 and T5) boast Harrods shops, each one opening at 06.00 hours for early bird bargain hunters and closing at 22.00 hours for designer label-loving night owls. Don’t expect these stores to offer anything like the dizzying range of products and services as the main Knightsbridge branch. Instead they concentrate on some tried-and-trusted favourites such as Harrods teddy bears; Harrods biscuits, preserves and blended teas in beautifully decorative gift tins, smoke salmon and a range of small branded house ware gifts such as tea towels, aprons, mugs, etc.
In addition to these relatively modestly priced gift items travellers can choose from a decent range of upscale men’s and women’s design label fashion wear, jewellery and accessories from the likes of Cartier, Etro, Salvatore Ferragamo, Alexander McQueen. Note that in T4 Harrods actually has two store locations within the terminals, selling luxury brands such as Jimmy Choo and Roberto Cavalli.
The most impressive Harrods store at Heathrow has to be the enormous 11,000 square foot Terminal 5 outlet, however. Brightly lit, minimalist in style, it is a world away from the early Harrods airport shops of yesteryear with their dowdy carpets and rather old-fashioned merchandising. There is a Denim Bar stocking all manner of designer jeans, as well as beach and cruise wear area for anyone lucky enough to be jetting off to sunny climes. Foodies will love browsing the store’s Food Hall, which although smaller than the original Knightsbridge, still stocks a marvellous range of comestible delights.
If your flight leaves from the T5 Satellite Terminal, don’t be downhearted. There is smaller Harrods store here too. One last thing to point out, Chinese shoppers are particularly well catered for at these Heathrow shops. They all boast Chinese-speaking staff and accept the much-used Chinese UnionPay credit card.
London’s other major airport, Gatwick, also offers two Harrods shops, one each in the airport’s two terminals (North and South). Both are open early doors from five in the morning to nine at night. For more details (and customer reviews) see http://www.gatwickairport.com/shopping-eating/shopping/shopping/harrods/. The department store also has a European outpost at Lisbon airport in Terminal 1, which stocks much the same range of gifts and branded apparel as the London stores. Uniquely, it also runs a café and buffet at the airport, offering pastries, typically British dishes, and of course, lots of tea!
From Portugal to Asia where Harrods franchise stores can be found at Singapore Changi airport in Terminals 1 and 2, and in Kuala Lumpur airport’s Satellite Building and Contact Pier. Both the Singapore and Malaysian airport locations major on those quintessentially British gifts and products Asians love, especially teas, biscuits and cuddly toys. Don’t expect too many high-end fashion labels, which are very well catered for in other designer shops at both airports.
And of course, we shouldn’t forget Harrods’ tie up with Cunard. Now Cunard is actually owned by the American cruise ship owner Carnival and based in Bermuda, but that doesn’t stop the line flagging up its British heritage. Cue the onboard Harrods concessions the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Victoria. Part of the cruise ships Royal Arcade shopping malls, these floating Harrods outposts stock much the same line of products as the airport stores: think teddy bears, own-label clothing, teas, biscuits and key-rings all packaged in those famous signature green bags.
As if all these airport stores and cruise ship concessions weren’t enough, Harrods’ new Qatari owners believe the brand can be extended even further. Last year (2012) they announced ambitious plans to open branded Harrods hotels around the world in cities such as Paris, New York, Kuala Lumpur and in China. These days it would seem Harrods really is living up to its original motto: “All things for all people, everywhere!”