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At Macy’s, Star Scents Shine

Department store has taken the lead among in retailing celebrity fragrances.

Muriel Gonzalez

Macy’s is no stranger to the new world.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

It has taken the lead among department stores in retailing celebrity fragrances, and that move has changed the dynamic of the store. “It does create a lot of activity,” said Muriel Gonzalez, Macy’s Inc.’s executive vice president and general merchandise manager of cosmetics, fragrances and shoes. Gonzalez said celebrity scents comprise about 10 percent of her fragrance business, compared with the 4 percent often cited as a market-wide figure.

The power of teen idols was driven home to her after the store launched Justin Bieber’s first women’s scent last June. “There were 12-year-olds sleeping outside the store, waiting to be the first ones to come in and to get a chance to see him,” she recalled. She noted, however, that the Bieber stampede did not pull traffic away from the store’s usual favorites. “We had outsized growth in all of our regular, strong pillar fragrances,” she said of the Mother’s Day results. “The mothers were in the department with their daughters; they were buying for themselves as well.”

And Gonzalez said she is looking forward to attracting new customers with the fall launches of the Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj fragrances. Not that Macy’s has been a slouch at learning how to talk to the young. The store has over five million fans on its Facebook page, and “Macy’s has really put a big emphasis now on the Millennial customer because they just have a greater buying power than we Baby Boomers,” Gonzalez said. “We are definitely increasing our marketing spend in the social space — in the digital space — in a big way.

“We have recently reorganized our apparel department…to really focus on the Millennials, both the 13 to 20 age range and the 20 to 30 age range. In cosmetics, as well as in fragrance, we have actually been getting a better share of that customer, not only through the young fragrances but also through Impulse Beauty and some of the younger brands that we carry there, as well.”

Gonzalez added that she had recently become a convert to another facet of social media, QR codes. While acknowledging that some industry figures have voiced doubt that the promotional communication devices actually work, she ran a clip from a Bobbi Brown cosmetics video and sang the praises of the promotion, in which customers could take a picture of a QR code with their cell phone, then watch the makeup application video that appeared. “Bobbi Brown is a nonpromotional business,” she explained. “It’s not like we have gifts or big events. It’s very steady and very predictable. But all of a sudden, business shot up 30 percent, and the only difference was running that QR code. So I then became a believer.”

The QR codes and other social media tools has allowed Macy’s to start building a following of “omni” customers — those who buy in both the brick-and-mortar and digital worlds. “If a customer shops in store and online, the data is that she spends more than if she is a shopper in just a single channel,” Gonzalez said. “What we are doing now is a lot of things to increase customer’s use of both channels.”

One step was to open an initial eight “fulfillment stores.” She noted there are certain products that are online only, that can be fulfilled in-store. More store openings are expected. “I think that we’re going from eight to 250,” she said. “So let’s see how that goes and we’ll go from there.”

One of the store’s most valuable new customers is the multicultural consumer. “We are lucky at Macy’s, because we started as so many different stores, all with pockets of strength and all over the country, that we have great strength in Hispanic customers, great strength in Asian customers, great strength in African-American consumers,” she said. “The better we do at really targeting that customer, the better off we do.”