By  on September 6, 2008

From handbags to jewelry to shoes, Macy’s has accessories covered.

The department store is continuing its role as a major destination for luxurious but accessible accoutrements of all kinds. Even in today’s shaky economic climate, the retailer remains optimistic about the power of the category.

“We’re fortunate in that accessories seem to continue to be the quickest pick-me-up for customers in all kinds of times,” says Muriel Gonzalez, Macy’s senior vice president of Centercore — the intimate apparel, accessories and shoe division. “We offer a complete assortment so the customer has lots of options. We offer everything from aspirational and designer pieces to product with a great price-value relationship, so our business is very healthy.”

Over the last 150 years, Macy’s has lined up top accessories firms, including Furla, Nine West, Coach, Dooney & Bourke and Michael Michael Kors—and that’s just handbags.

“Our business with Macy’s is explosive,” says John Idol, chief executive officer at Michael Kors. “Macy’s really is very supportive of our brand and we have many more plans together. The in-store shops are incredibly successful and I think the relationship is mutual. The interesting thing about Macy’s and department stores in general and what they bring to shopping malls across the U.S. is that you go there for beauty product, you go there for fi ne jewelry and you go there for accessories. When you look through a mall today, it’s stores like Macy’s that dominate the accessories business for Americans. They bring a level of excitement, and they do that better than anyone else in the malls.”

Andy Cohen, ceo of Nine West Group, whose accessories division recently upgraded its handbag category to add more fashion, says the bags have been performing well at the retailer.

“I think in our handbags, we are more trend-right and more fashion-oriented than we used to be and that’s working well for Macy’s,” says Cohen. “Our business has been good there and I would describe it as quite healthy and with continued growth opportunity.”

According to Gonzalez, each category housed within the store’s accessories business is unique in its offerings and is successful on its own.

“Both our jewelry and handbag businesses have been strong for a long time,” she reports. “We can really take advantage of everything from accessible price points to lifestyle.”

Macy’s high-end jewelry department offers diamond engagement rings retailing well into the thousands as well as women’s and men’s watches by D&G, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Emporio Armani, Hamilton, Movado, Tissot and Victorinox Swiss Army. The fashion jewelry selection includes necklaces, brooches and earrings in cubic zirconia and semiprecious stones that match current trends, such as oversize cocktail rings, statement necklaces and chunky cuffs.

“I think part of the reason our jewelry business is so healthy has to do with price-value relationship,” says Cohen, whose Nine West jewelry offerings are available at Macy’s. “For a reasonable amount of money, you can buy a strong piece of fashion jewelry.” Macy’s has had no shortage of high-fashion brands in eyewear, to keep its customers shopping for sunglasses all year long as opposed to just the spring and summer months. In the last two years, numerous new brands have hit the selling floor from luxury to midtier labels.

The retailer has different eyewear strategies pertaining to its various regions.

“We offer sunglasses at Macy’s East and West and we lease a Sunglass Hut in Macy’s Florida and Macy’s Central,” says Gonzalez. “Within our own stores, we have had a strong season and we see that consumers have responded to the ability to buy a status or designer name at more affordable price points.”

Gonzalez also acknowledges that, within accessories, Macy’s has shifted its merchandising tactics in the last few years to present a more selective assortment.

“There is no question that the customer is very perceptive about value today at all prices and is very cognizant of fashion. We strive to offer fashion and value at all price points,” she avers. “We continue to elevate our product offering and we have been making an effort to edit our assortment so the customer knows what we believe in. Each season we decide which product, category, color, fashion statements we want the customer to believe in. In department stores, the broad offering can be overwhelming, so we’re working to help make the point.”

But while the Macy’s customer appreciates value, high-priced selections are faring well— perhaps better than expected, she says.

“In the current bridge handbag arena, we find that as we offer more of a fashion assortment—in the leather, the hardware—which can push our bags into the $395 range up to $595, we are still selling them at every level of the store,” Idol says. “That tells you that there is a fashion customer shopping at Macy’s. And our bags and shoes are continuing to sell at higher price points, and we’re not afraid of having more affordable luxury products in Macy’s because they sell it.”

Gonzalez cites the Jessica Simpson Collection as a huge seller in shoes for the store. She adds young businesses like Simpson’s are proving successful, as well as brands with distinct DNA, such as Betsey Johnson and Lucky.

For the fourth quarter—naturally a key selling period, particularly for accessories—she notes the store is focusing on a strong gift-giving program with lots of new and well-priced items for the holiday season, and is updating packaging to keep the look fresh.

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