London's Retail Industry

Retail shops have always been an integral part of London's cityscape. The retail industry today contributes significantly to London's economy, with the sector accounting for about 40 percent of all money spent in London and providing about 400,000 jobs or nine percent of all employment in the metropolitan area.

When other traditional sectors associated with London such as manufacturing is in decline, the retail sector holds strong and even shows signs of growth. Increasing consumer income has resulted in increased consumer spending fuels much of this growth and the upward trend should continue. The employment opportunities in this sector may increase by an estimated 75,000 within the next decade or so. This sector provides many part time employment opportunities.

Intra-Sector Comparison

The single largest type of specialist retail shops are clothing shops, providing about 78,000 jobs. Specialist food shops such as bakers and butchers follow second with 22,000. Next in line are bookshops, chemists, electrical goods, furniture shops and hardware shops, all providing about 10,000 jobs each.

While non-specialty stores and specialty shops share the 400,000 strong retail workforce among themselves almost equally, the market share and dominance of non-specialists shops or "big retailers" has been steadily increasing over the years.

Shopping Areas

Much of the big retail stores have their outlets within central London. Oxford Street, Regent Street and New Bond Street are the main upmarket shopping areas, and accommodate most of big flagship stores.

London is also famous for its street markets, many of which have historic origins.

The world famous Camden High street market attracts more than 100,000 visitors every weekend and is one of London's top attractions. This market is actually a conglomeration of six small markets within the Camden area:

  • The Electric Ballroom market that sells vintage and funky gear
  • The Inverness Street Market where vendors peddle fruit and vegetables, bargain clothing and souvenirs
  • The Buck Street Market that specialise in alternative clothing, T-shirts and fashion accessories
  • The Camden Canal Market, noted for its small shops selling fashion accessories and gifts.
  • The Camden Lock Market, famous for its crafts, clothes, jewellery and unusual gifts
  • The Camden Stables Market, where shopkeepers sell clothes and accessories

The Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is another world famous street market. Especially noteworthy here is the Saturday antiques market. However, a better place for arts and crafts, antiques and rare items is the Greenwich Market that runs from Thursday to Sunday in the heart of the Greenwich World Heritage Site.

Two still thriving markets steeped in history are the Old Spitalfields Market and the Petticoat Lane Market. The Old Spitalfields Market dates back to 1638 when King Charles gave licence to sell "flesh, fowl, and roots" in Spittle Fields (now called Spitalfields). The Petticoat Lane Market traces back to the 17th Century when the French Huguenots started selling petticoats and lace here.

Other famous London markets include:

Flagship Stores

London, an international city, abounds in flagship retail stores of all types. Some of the major ones are:

Abercrombie & Fitch: Located at Burlington Gardens, this designer store sells limited edition jeans displayed in glass counters. The store is a renovated historic building dating back to 1725

Apple: Located at Regent Street, Apple's largest store has an estimated rent of £1.5 million a year. Apart from the full range of Apple merchandise, the store has daily events and workshops.

British Home Stores (BHS): BHS at Oxford Street is famous for its value-for-money close and household items merchandise

Debenhams: The world famous Debenhams at Oxford Street stocks a range of designer ware, shoes, lingerie and cosmetics

Fenwick: Fenwick of New Bond Street, established in 1891, is one of London's most fashionable outlets, stocking clothes, accessories, lingerie and cosmetics.

Floris: Established in 1730, Floris sells traditional English colognes and soaps of the finest quality, it also supply's to the British royalty.

Forbidden Planet: Forbidden Planet is the world's best-known and biggest retailer of science fiction, fantasy and cult entertainment products. It stocks all the latest comics and graphic novels, action figures, books, DVDs, toys and related merchandise.

Fortnum and Mason: Fortnum and Mason at Piccadilly Circus is a 300-year-old institution renowned for its stock of fine foodstuffs, menswear, womenswear, cosmetics, homeware and luggage.

Hamleys Toy Shop: Hamleys on Regent Street is one of the biggest toy shop of the world. Of special interest is the staff dressing up in costumes to entertain and the many toy demonstrations.

Harrods: The world famous Harrods department store opened in 1849 and has since then established a reputation for selling the finest-quality merchandise. The Knightsbridge store features over 300 departments spread over seven floors and impressive food halls.

John Lewis: Established at 1870 on Oxford Street, John Lewis prides itself for its pricing and prides itself for "never knowingly undersold." The store stocks about half a million products ranging from perfume to luggage and from toys to TVs.

Les Senteurs: Les Senteurs in Belgravia is London's most famous perfume shop. The shop's USP is the staff offering impartial expert advice especially on products that smaller companies very often provide better value for money compared to the products of big brands.

Liberty: The Liberty department store at Regent Street started in 1875 by pedalling exotic goods brought from far-flung corners of the world. Today, the trend continues. Especially noteworthy is the showroom itself. The store setting in the iconic Tudor-style building resembles more a luxurious home rather than shopping.

Marks and Spencer (M&S): Mark & Spencer's on Oxford Street it's renowned for its clothing range. Other noteworthy flagship retail stores in the fashion space are Harvey Nichols at Knightsbridge, House of Fraser at Oxford Street, Louis Vuitton at New Bond Street and Selfridges at Oxford Street.

Nike: The 70,000 square foot Nike store at Oxford Street stocks the largest collection of women sports clothing and footwear in Europe.

Penhaligons: Established in 1870, Penhaligon is a niche store selling exclusive scents, toiletries, grooming products and colognes. The store resembles a traditional English barber shop, a takeoff from the times when the store started off from a barber shop.

Sunglass Hut: Sunglass Hut at New Bond Street stocks over 30 designer brands. Its claim for fame however rests on providing shoppers with an innovative, interactive experience and a VIP lounge for private fittings.

Whole Foods: Whole Foods at Kensington High Street is a 80,000-square-foot store spread across three floors. The Provision Hall in the ground floor has an in-house bakery, a wine and cheese bar. The Market Hall downstairs stocks over 10,000 grocery items. The food hall on the top floor features 13 dining areas with a seating capacity of 350 diners. Of special interest is a five step Animal Welfare Rating Program that provides information on how the breeding and treatment of the meat products stocked.