By  on March 20, 2012

NEW YORK — The convergence of art and science in retailing was the theme of a symposium Tuesday sponsored by Fashion Group International and The Robin Report.

“The two go hand-in-hand, but the art side has to trump the science,” said Stephen I. Sadove, chief executive officer of Saks Inc. Martine Reardon, chief marketing officer of Macy’s Inc., and Richard Dickson, president and ceo of Jones Group Branded Business, joined Sadove on the panel, which was moderated by Robin Lewis, ceo and managing editor of The Robin Report.

Kicking off the discussion, Lewis noted that pure play and e-commerce sites disrupted the brick-and-mortar players, but now brick-and-mortar stores have the opportunity to use these same technologies to create “awesome real time experiences in their stores.”

Sadove said the single most important word these days is “omni-channel.” He said it’s imperative to think like the consumer and have the product available anytime and anywhere she wants it. She may buy it online or at the Saks store, and the retailer has to be able to move inventory around. There was a myth that Saks’ Platinum customers shopped mostly in stores, but the reality is that half of them are shopping on saks.com, said Sadove. He learned that the omni-channel customer was spending roughly four times as much as the person just shopping through the usual channels. Consequently, it means that Saks, whose Internet business grew 28 percent last year, has had to re-think its marketing strategy. Saks is investing $85 million and $95 million over the next few years in technology to be able to be an omni-channel retailer.

Reardon also spoke about the importance of being an omni-channel retailer. She said Macy’s strives to be everywhere the customer is. Several years ago, the online and store merchants would work independently, but now they’re working together and going into the market together. “We are moving money into that digital space. It really is the way to reach that omni-channel customer,” she said. She said they are reaching that customer through direct mail, e-mail, search, mobile devices and tablets. “We want to be where she can get to us quickly,” she said. She also cited QR codes as “a really important marketing communication for us.” When it comes to allocating media, she said, “I’m pretty agnostic.” She said she’ll advertise wherever she thinks she’ll get “the best eyeballs” and “best experience” for that customer.

Jones’ Dickson said historically the company would be divided by category, such as footwear, denim, sportswear and jewelry. He said the customer has now moved into relationships with brands, and each of its brands — such as Rachel Roy, Kurt Geiger, Robert Rodriguez, Jones New York, Nine West and Anne Klein — have different needs. “The same people who run the Easy Spirit campaign can’t run the Brian Atwood campaign,” he said. He said each of its brands is in a different place technologically. For example, 62 percent of the traffic of Rachel Roy comes from Facebook. And that’s not the case with Easy Spirit. Easy Spirit’s e-commerce business is the number-one site at the company.

Both Sadove and Reardon spoke about the early success they’re having with their participation in “Fashion Star,” the NBC television show that made its debut last week.

“We’re giving the customer something new and different to watch on TV and play on the Web site,” said Reardon. She said Macy’s participation in the show had more to do with the “marketing side,” than the “commerce side.” But she’s found that it reaches the millennial consumer, who the retailer is eager to get in the store, and who wants to know how to get discovered. While she said the “Fashion Star” collections are a small part of Macy’s buy, “it puts our brand out there in a new way of shopping.”

Sadove said people may ask: “Why is Saks doing something like that when they don’t even do TV advertising?” He said the store has been bringing down its average age. After the debut episode, Saks doubled the normal flow of traffic to its Web site, and the site had more purchases, which were unrelated to “Fashion Star.”

“All that exposure is why we wanted to be a part of it,” he said.

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