To be perfectly honestly, we’re bored of the department store war between Myer and David Jones in Australia. As much as both have tried to jazz up their offering, both are still far from world-class shopping destinations. In our opinion, they’re still run like supermarkets; you only pop in out of necessity, the window shopping isn’t that different from going up and down the supermarket aisles; it’s very predictable with no element of surprise.
You must be thinking what kind of lofty standards are we basing these comments upon, the answer can be found in Paris, a city not short of world-class shopping destinations eg. Galleries Lafayette, Colette, Le Bon Marche. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s start with MERCI, how’s this for a completely different value proposition: you won’t get a guilt trip for shopping there because MERCI donates all its profits to charity, towards projects against poverty in Madagascar.
Social consciousness aside, it’s got everything that makes an iconic store and shopping destination. Situated in the trendy 3rd arrondissement and located in an industrial loft-like space covering 3 floors, it’s got good real estate. As you enter its courtyard from Boulevard Beaumarchais and see that red vintage Fiat 500 that’s been photographed so many times, you know you’re in for an iconic in-store experience.
As you enter into the main hall, you’re likely to be welcomed by some new exhibition or themed installation that is a collaboration with some other brand, designer or artist. When we were there, the exhibition was on the book Paris versus New York by Vahram Muratyan, which we covered in an earlier post. The exhibition staging and visual merchandising are always inspired and fresh, the kind that makes you think “thank god I made the trip here and everything is so pretty I think I’m gonna leave with something!”. Now how many trips to Myer or David Jones have made you think that?
MERCI stocks a great selection of brands and emerging designers across fashion, accessories, beauty, skincare, home wares, furniture, stationery, books and more, always with the confident and design-savvy shopper in mind. The in-store cafe may be a common sight these days, but MERCI has three food outlets on site, a canteen and a cafe/library on the ground floor plus a restaurant in the basement space.
The canteen in the background and library cafe in the foreground both have seating on the pavement of Boulevard Beaumarchais (pictured above), perfect for people watching or be watched by passers-by, and enjoying the lovely Parisian outdoors.
We actually prefer sitting inside the library cafe as a section has a view of the inner courtyard and that cute Fiat500 as well as walls of vintage books that set the mood for quiet contemplation: Have you bought everything you wanted? No regrets?
The thing about MERCI is that it’s just so drop dead photogenic, spaces are constantly changed, rearranged and are always inspiring (we wonder how Instagrammers found the time to shop and still snap away!). When you put that together with service that is always polite and never intrusive (whenever we visit), you’re really in retail heaven.
On our last visit to Paris, we kept going back to MERCI for unique gifts for friends in Oz and every time, we found the perfect gift and something for ourselves! Ultimately, what makes Merci an iconic store is less about what you buy there, but more about your experience there. It’s become a meeting place with friends, a gallery of ideas; it has something old and new, for the young and old, and for whatever reason, you just linger there. The MERCI brand has grown to become much more than just a store and that’s really why it’s become iconic, a destination.
From their website, it states that the founders want to “say MERCI to life, MERCI to the talents and to the designers who made this success possible”. We want to tell them, for perfecting retail in today’s incredibly challenging albeit unpredictable times, we’ll gladly say the same thing back to them. So now, can you understand how we arrived at our harsh verdict on Australian department stores where you duck in, do your stuff and can’t wait to go?
P.S. We’re already eyeing this lovely mint green cardboard suitcase when we next visit MERCI, but if anyone is kind enough to bring it back to us in Melbourne, it will be much appreciated too!