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Secret shopper: World’s Benny Castles

Secret shopper is a chance for retailers to hear New Zealand shoppers’ thoughts on their best and worst retail experiences, most-wanted products and more. This edition features Benny Castles, Kiwi fashion house World’s director and designer.

+ What was the last purchase you were excited about, and why? 

I am an eyewear fanatic. I was recently fortunate enough to be overseas for work where I found a quaint but reputable eyewear store that I had been following for some time. Even through a massive language barrier the experience was amazing, I was given a very thoughtful explanation of the brand and its handcrafted production process as well as a history of the shop, its founders and the neighbourhood. The retailer knew I was interested and made my time in the store exciting and personal, so I felt comfortable to spend a long time and ended up buying two pairs of glasses and a number of other small items. The collection that ranged from new to vintage styles, the elegant displays, characterful service and atmosphere of the store made the purchase an experience that I’ll remember each time I wear those frames.

+ Can you tell us about a retail experience you’ve had that was exciting or interesting?

Some time ago I visited a store which sold sneakers. It was a locked door policy and entrance was only permitted if the store was empty so the space was all yours. Each shoe was housed in a large wooden and glass haberdashery cabinet, almost like they were little cakes or precious antiques. I liked how it made exclusivity fun and available to all customers, not a chosen few. It also heightened a product range that is usually seen as an everyday item, showing a real honest passion for their offerings.

+ What was your worst retail experience?

Being a retailer, I never like to put down any other retailer as I know what a difficult and nuanced art it really is, and how from time to time you can get it wrong or a customer is just not interested in having a positive experience. But I will say that if I don’t receive good or at least friendly service I don’t buy – no matter what it is. If the service is not engaging and welcoming I don’t support it.

+ Tell us about a purchase that’s solved a problem for you.  
Every purchase solves a problem of one kind or another, but I think the most important solution is the necessity of enjoyment in shopping and purchasing. Most stores include a gorgeous range of items we really don’t need in a hunter gather sense, and many stores pass things off as necessities which are, in fact, irrelevant. However, in the same way we need art and music, we need the ability to represent who we are through the purchases we make, whether that be through fashion, cars, ornamental or anything – purchases can be opinioned and character building, or personally reassuring. I received a gift of an item that I had long coveted, they were small shelves you attach to the wall. It solved no real issue, but certainly made me feel good and I enjoy having them in my life and celebrating their design and randomness.

+ Can you think of any item or service that would be useful to you but doesn’t exist yet?
No, I think service is a personal touch – a fast courier service from an online purchase or a gimmick does not excite me. Personal and thoughtful guidance or thanks when shopping is what makes purchasing memorable for me and makes me want to return. When you are remembered or shown something you didn’t realise you absolutely had to have in your life. When a retailer takes the time to get to know you and shows you ideas that they believe will fascinate and inspire you – that’s service that I enjoy.

+ What’s an item that you’re planning on buying soon?
My car is entering its final phase and preparing for a new life. I am currently avoiding looking at new cars out of ignorance and disinterest, I‘d preferably spend the same amount of money on a pair of glasses, but alas, a car gets the kid to school. Shopping is a great way to celebrate people’s individuality, I know many people who’d love to have my problem (not my budget) and who hate shopping for clothes… but that’s not me, so I’ll look for a nice piece of tin that I don’t look too out of place in.

+ What’s your favourite store? 

World, of course… that may seem biased, but I truly believe that we offer the most unique retail experience and I believe whole heartedly in our team of retailers who are passionate and caring individuals. They are truly interested in our gorgeous array of customers and love to bring to life the eclectic collections held in store. I’ve been walking into and working on World stores for 16 years and never does that become boring or repetitive and that is what makes it a special place to work and shop!

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 747 December 2016 / January 2017

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