For passersby on Berlin's major shopping street Tauentzienstraße, the 113-year-old KaDeWe might just be one of the biggest department stores in Europe.
But for regulars — locals and out-of-towners — the store, which spans over 60,000m², is as trustworthy a retail haven as it is a sanctuary for lifestyle experiences.
In spite of all that, my recent visit to KaDeWe proved that this German historic landmark was indeed far greater beyond a shopper's destination.
As incredible as it sounds, the store is the place where Thais who travel to Berlin can wholesomely take pleasure in, rely on and, most importantly, be proud of.
Famous beyond Germany's borders, KaDeWe (a commercial abbreviation for Kaufhaus des Westens) was founded in 1907 and quickly became a place for hi-end retail therapy.
Today, the eight-storey establishment has been revamped and stylishly divided into four distinctive quadrants. Each quadrant exhibits its own interior design conceptualised by some of Europe's most renown architects and design studios including Pritzker Prize winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and Parisian designer India Mahdavi.
It is a home to the world's top fashion boutiques as well as watchmakers, jewellers and beauty brands.
The list includes Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci, Balenciaga, Kenzo, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Valentino and Ted Baker as well as Jimmy Choo, Rolex and Tiffany to name a few. The Chanel shop here is said to be the most successful in Germany.
This modernised food hall is where an international smorgasbord of delicacies from around the world await keen gourmands.
As a pioneer in offering lifestyle experiences, KaDeWe sells more than 35,000 different products from designer fashion and accessories to cosmetic and skincare, street wear, home goods, stationery, kids products, tech gadgets, food and beverages and souvenirs. It's a comprehensive selection, from the most luxurious to the most affordable to cater to various needs.
The store also boasts a vast array of restaurants and dining venues. While the luxury department is as well equipped with stylishly set bars serving Champagne and gourmet coffee.
"Consumer demands are changing. Department stores now face business disruption. But we say 'Let's make the store a hero first, then develop the e-commerce'," said KaDeWe's chief executive officer, André Maeder.
The company's brand and marketing director Petra Fladenhofer agreed.
"We want our store to be a place where customers can touch and feel and experience," she said.
According to Fladenhofer, KaDeWe competes not just with e-commerce and other retailers, but also with cinema and restaurants and whatever customers can do in their leisure time.
"Time is what we try to achieve. We are telling our customers that we offer something that's truly worth their time. So while every store offers discounts, we offer memorable experience," she said.
The stylishly revamped store is home to the world's top fashion boutiques as well as watchmakers and jewellers.
The company obviously has achieved its goal.
Across the three stores (including the Alsterhaus in Hamburg and Oberpollinger in Munich) under the KaDeWe Group, a total of 50 million customers visit the stores per year. That is with an average conversion rate of 20% and 600 million turnover. KaDeWe alone has a frequency rate of 50,000 visitors per day. The number goes up to more than 100,000 during Christmas.
One thing that caters to such achievement is the requisition by Central Group, Thailand's very own retail conglomerate.
Since 2015, the KaDeWe Group has been majority owned by the Central Group with a 50.1% stake. The remaining 49.9% is held by the Austrian Signa Group.
"It's a fruitful merging between Europe's leading real estate company and Thailand retail experts," CEO André Maeder said.
Since the requisition, Sean Hill sits as the KaDeWe's chief operating officer. Hill, a member of the family-owned Central Group, has helped lead the team with the renovation of the store and also with initiations of lifestyle services.
"When we started with KaDeWe five years ago, we knew the store was huge so we spent a lot of time observing every customer coming in. We then realised that the store needed a complete transformation, functionally and emotionally," said Hill.
Munich's Oberpollinger department store is also owned by the Central Group.
With the comprehensive new look and feel for all eight floors, the store aims to surprise, inspire and give to customers special moments to remember.
Today, the store offers private shoppers, personal shopping suites, day-spa and beauty treatments, tailoring service, free Wi-Fi connection, catering services, shop-on-demand and online payment. It also hosts special events and workshops including fashion shows and designer talks.
"We never stay still. We always keep moving," Hill said.
"Whatever we do is based on what our customers need. At the same time we try to keep our own identity and be the best in class," added Maeder.
"So, what we offer to our customers, 600,000 of them are loyalty card holders, is not discounts but benefits. The benefits come in form of lifestyle services such as access to exclusive events, free parking, delivery service and workshops," he said.
The store also provides a dedicated space for selfies and encourages its customers to post their "KaDeWe moments" on Instagram.
André Maeder, KaDeWe's chief executive officer.
"It is the most valuable advertisement that you can have, it's like a genuine recommendation from real happy customers," explained brand and marketing director, Fladenhofer.
"In the past we always forbade photo-taking in the store but today it's one of the most powerful visual strategy tools we use. Our Instagram has 6.5 million clicks per year," she said.
Other than the visual campaign, to go with the digital evolution the store also has online content dedicated to international tourists. Chinese and European are their majority of customers.
Fladenhofer also explained that the shopping culture among German people has changed a lot over the past decade.
"In the past, Germans were very frugal when it came to spending. We're only interested in buying cars and houses, and careless about fashion.
"But now it's starting to change. New generations of Germans are into fashion and luxury. They also have big spending power. Designer men shoes are new highlights at our store, and has helped generate lots of new revenues," Fladenhofer said.
Today, 42% of KaDeWe's revenue is from fashion while 14% is from food.
The latter has always been the centrepiece of the store.
Occupying a totally revamped area on the sixth floor under a spectacular glass roof, KaDeWe food hall, a true paradise for keen gourmands, is one of the largest food halls in the world.
It combines the concept of retail, grocery and restaurants, and is a favourite spot among locals and tourists.
The modernised food hall, manned by 400 employees, is where international smorgasbord of gourmet delicacies including artisan cheese, prime cuts of meat, premium seafood, charcuterie, house-baked pastries, chocolate, confectionery, tea and wine are on offer.
For health-conscious customers there is a special corner offering vegan cuisine and healthy dishes.
The store has more than 20 restaurants, wine bars, deli corners and late-night food kiosks for those in the mood of eating in. The sixth floor is open longer than the store's usual opening hours to allow customers to linger and savour the food, the drink and the city night view.
"The fact that restaurants open longer than the store is super new and popular as are the wine bars and champagne bars," Hill said.
Another new feature at the store is pop-up spaces and multi-label corners.
Over the years, KaDeWe has hosted 40 pop-up stores. They range from international top brands to local brands by young entrepreneurs.
"While we represents the world's high-profile brands we also want to help promote small businesses to start up and grow," said Maeder.
Other than Germany's KaDeWe, Oberpollinger and Alsterhaus stores, the Central Group also owns La Rinascente department store in Italy and Illum department stores in Denmark.
Exclusively for the Central Group's The 1 Card member, get 10% discount and earn points when shop at all these European department store brands.
Sean Hill, KaDeWe's chief operating officer. KaDeWe
The fact that restaurants are open after store hours is super-popular, as are the newly added wine and Champagne bars.