Bergdorf Site Launches Monday

Bergdorf Goodman may be one of the first to showcase the fashion trends, but it’s among the last to hop onto the wave of e-commerce.

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NEW YORK — Bergdorf Goodman may be one of the first to showcase the fashion trends, but it’s among the last to hop onto the wave of e-commerce. But after establishing an information-only Web site last November, http://www.bergdorfgoodman.com is springing forth by finally going transactional on Monday.

The luxury site is filled with 10,473 stockkeeping units from a total of 101 designers and provides a clean, no-nonsense presentation without the bells and whistles that often bog down Web sites and complicate transactions.

“We’re about the last big retail brand to step into online shopping,” said Michael Crotty, senior vice president of marketing for Bergdorf’s. “We wanted to wait until we were ready to do something that would live up to expectations.”

In part, expectations were heightened by Bergdorf’s sister division, Neiman Marcus, which has a burgeoning business online. For the Bergdorf’s team, it’s evidence that luxury customers don’t mind shopping online for expensive fashion and accessories, even if they can’t feel it and try it on first. Officials at Neiman Marcus Direct, which includes catalogues, have said that most of its growth this year will come from neimanmarcus.com. Bergdorf’s executives would not disclose volume predictions for their new transactional site.

There’s been a long industry debate about what can sell and what can’t sell over the Web, and a perception that after getting pampered in the stores, luxury shoppers just don’t have the patience for Web sites. But lately, the naysayers seem to be losing their case. Aside from Neiman’s, even such mass Web sites as QVC, eBay and Sam’s Club have also found success selling fine jewelry and other expensive merchandise.

“From the Neiman Marcus experience, we know there is no price resistance,” said Crotty, who before joining Bergdorf’s last March was vice president of Neiman Marcus Direct. “Obviously, we don’t have couture on our Web site, but we didn’t shy away from designer. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity here. The brands and designers sold at Bergdorf’s are so well known around the U.S., but their availability in many markets is not there.”

This story first appeared in the August 27, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Crotty’s message for those who may be hesitant to surf the site: “The navigation is really easy.”

In a prelaunch presentation, Crotty demonstrated the alternative ways to shop bergdorfgoodman.com: by designer, by category and by trends. Categories sold on the site include women’s collections, which is subdivided into premiere and contemporary collections; shoes; handbags, and beauty. The categories all have different merchandise stories, with trends, looks of the season and key items broken out. The selection will change constantly, with the main pages, such as the home page, being updated every two weeks.

Home will be introduced by spring, and men’s wear will be introduced later in the spring, the officials said. There’s another feature to make the shopping easier, as well as to promote multiple sales. When you call up a page displaying an item, it automatically recommends a matching accessory when appropriate. For example, an Etro printed silk dress, priced at $1,780, is matched with a Manolo Blahnik strappy sandal for $515. The black Moschino bow dress, priced at $1,100, is matched with a Jimmy Choo suede pump for $445. Bergdorf’s merchants made the choices, but not every dress or jacket is paired with an accessory.

“The photography is right to the point so the merchandise is front and center,” Crotty said. “There are no backgrounds. It’s really clean and crisp, as opposed to the Bergdorf Goodman Magazine, which is more atmospheric. It has to be that way online. If someone is going to spend $3,500 or $8,000 on a handbag, they want to see the details.”

Added Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director: “We positioned the site the way we position the store. It reflects the unique point of view at Bergdorf’s,” which is largely shaped by its bounty of exclusives in New York. “We don’t feel it resembles the Neiman Marcus site. The merchandise is different.”

“We’re not just putting merchandise online,” added Mallory Andrews, vice president of special events. “A big part of the Web site is that it’s a platform to inform customers about what’s going on in the store. We didn’t want it to be one-dimensional. It serves as a great communicator.”

Bergdorf’s has a list of 50,000 e-mail addresses, which will grow over time as more people register online. However, the store promises to issue only one e-mail a week this fall, which could increase over time, to announce special events for the public, such as a designer appearance, a trunk show, or a book signing. The last thing Bergdorf’s wants to do is add to the congestion in cyberspace or overload mailboxes. It will continue to send out invitations by regular mail for its private designer showings or luncheons.

The site includes the store’s calendar of events, which currently lists for September 35 public events related to women’s merchandise, and about a dozen for men’s. Pages from the Bergdorf Goodman Magazine are reproduced on the events portion of the Web site, but not in the selling portion, where the photography is all about the product.

Bergdorf’s began working on the shopping site last March and has been testing it behind a firewall for several weeks. The site was created entirely in-house, Crotty said.

The store will be using the Neiman Marcus warehouse and telemarketing operations in Dallas, where the Neiman Marcus Group is based, for fulfilling orders. “We are leveraging Neiman Marcus as if it’s a third party,” said Crotty.

Other features of the Web site are BG Focus, which shows key trends of the season and reflects what’s highlighted in Bergdorf Goodman Magazine, as well as in the store, so there’s integration across selling channels. Currently, Bergdorf’s believes cropped jackets from designer to contemporary, with such labels as Kulson and Walter, and fur and fur trim, real or faux, from such labels as Theory, Marc Jacobs and Catherine Melandrino are important. There is also a section on boots, with a range from vividly colored Pucci rain boots, priced at $100, to Giuseppe Zanotti high heels with multicolored crystals, for $525.

Naturally, Bergdorf’s has to be careful to present designers in a way that does justice to the products and their images. “Certain designers wanted to have more input than others, but in the end they were unusually cooperative,” Crotty said. “The presentation is fashion-driven. It would have been more of a problem if what we selected for the site was basic.”

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