Nata Dvir at home during COVID-19.

When Nata Dvir took over beauty at Macy’s in 2017, she was like the proverbial breath of fresh air, injecting relevance and a youthful energy into what had become a staid — albeit still sizable — beauty business. Now the general business manager for beauty and center core at Macy’s, Dvir’s fast rise speaks to her success in understanding and appealing to Millennial and Gen Z shoppers, with beauty a rare bright spot for the troubled retailer. But Dvir isn’t one to let a crisis derail her. Here, she talks about what consumers want right now (hint: a little bit of fun), how the retailer is looking to harness its scale and depth digitally and why she’s bullish on beauty — and department stores — going forward.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? 

Nata Dvir: My first real internship was at Gucci in 2003, the first summer they launched their web site. I waited for incoming orders and would go down to the store and fulfill them. That taught me a lot, because one of the things they asked us to do was look at the zip codes that people were buying products from and try to find trends based on them, to see if stores needed different merchandise or if they should open a store in a different area. It was how I got my job at Macy’s. I shared that experience during my interview and it’s similar to how My Macy’s was built, understanding the differences we saw in customer preferences.

Before the coronavirus, you had made an enormous amount of progress in updating beauty at Macy’s. What were some results that you were seeing?

N.D.: Our first focus was about changing the culture of our merchant team and beauty adviser. Over the last few years, we’ve changed the way we train, and embraced new brands and categories. We used to lead with brands; now we’re also looking at categories, such as the recent eyelash trend. It has allowed us to be more flexible in terms of how we think about the environment.

The next opportunity was changing the environment, both in-store and online. In store, we started a more open environment and changed the way we think about adjacencies. Before we were 85 percent brand shops; now we have a lot more flexibility.

It’s about changing the relationship with customers, so we can not only replenish with what they know, but also introduce them to new brands. Our core customers are really excited about newness, and as we get new customers, both those who have never shopped with Macy’s and who have shopped us but not for beauty, they are going to new and existing brands.

Pre-pandemic, we were seeing great results. Our fragrance and skin-care businesses were growing. Where we were in makeup was where the industry was. Through holiday and early February the results were strong and gave us the confidence to know we had the right formula.

Then came the coronavirus. What were some of the immediate pivots — have you been able to drive digital penetration and if so how?

N.D.: The good part is we have been using our site as a testing ground for a lot of new brands and content. As we were adding brands, we were changing the way the site was behaving. It’s still brand-centric, but we’ve introduced new brands and trends, which set us up nicely. Our existing customer gravitated to the site and new customers are coming because of the breadth of the assortment. We’re seeing that people are shopping differently. We’ve gotten better at how we recommend products. Beauty is a category driven by search, rather than by browsing and discovering. Customers are buying more regimens, but also looking for a hair dryer and the mask and the shampoo. It has been great from a department store perspective, because we carry all of the categories.

In terms of results — skin care has been outstanding. We’ve also seen categories we were just starting to introduce tripling in terms of business — hair, nail care and men’s skin care.

With Mother’s Day, we started to see an acceleration of fragrance two weeks earlier than typical. People were gift-giving earlier and were stocking up and worried that the gift wouldn’t get there. We gained market share in online sales for the month of March, which feels good.

As our stores have reopened for curbside pick-up, we’re starting to see them rebound faster than anticipated. Beauty has been the first to rebound and also the strongest.

What are some of the learnings that will be permanent?

N.D.: One thing I always felt was hard in our environment was speaking to the benefit of a product. We relied on beauty advisers to do it. We have an opportunity to use visuals to show how to use a product, its purpose, its price and attributes. People are looking for advice, just doing it digitally. How do we create that digital beauty adviser content that is more educational?

People are going to want to be in store — some level of social gathering, but it will be different. Smaller groups, one-on-one or two-on one-classes, for example. I also think people will want services. Appointment booking will be more important. That is an opportunity. We do it with brow, but not makeup. That will be an important change.

What can brands be doing to help retail in its recovery?

N.D.: The biggest thing is helping us partner on some of the content. Being creative in selling product with us is also an opportunity. There is an element of going back to the core products, proven products, reactivating the most important products in the line. Newness is important, but I would spend my time storytelling around the heroes — those types of core products were trending well in 2019.

In terms of promotions — people are curious, they’re looking for new attractive things. As brands are managing inventory, products you might discontinue in the upcoming year, you can take a percentage off and the customer is interested. That is productive for brands and retailers, moving through older inventory that you know is going to be discontinued.

Because Macy’s is such a gifting destination, the biggest thing I’m working with on my team is how can we replicate the in-store experience in holiday on our site. I do anticipate that as we look into the fourth quarter, we will see higher penetration of online business. That is our next big opportunity. The last seven weeks taught us a lot about reacting and being agile, and now we have the opportunity to plan for it as well.

What new areas of opportunity are you thinking about?

N.D.: Hair color! I’m still trying to find a great brand and the supply chain is low. We’re also leaning in to bath and body, and looking at baby and kids in a new way. Customers are doing their own nails and we can go further than polish. We’re also looking to whimsical parts of emerging categories. Whether or not you are quarantined, people are realizing you can do it yourself, not just to save money, but for entertainment. I’m thinking of beauty as entertainment.

We’ve also learned we have to be the place she comes to from a convenience perspective — when she can get all of these things together, it makes it so much easier for her.

What are you most excited about doing once shelter in place is lifted?

N.D.: This is going to force us to think about how we drive our business differently. There are a lot of things we have to relook at when it comes to how we support the industry and our business together. How do we reinvent the business model? What’s been nice is where you have the ability to move and grow, that is part of our forever culture. We always talk about being digital first, but as an industry we tend to be stores first. This give us opportunity to be digital first and mean it.

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