With the outbreak of COVID-19, Saks Fifth Avenue was “prepared” to meet customers’ needs, with changes to the luxury retailer’s website, and personalization and service advancements, already in motion.

That perspective came from Saks’ president and chief executive officer Marc Metrick, who spoke at the National Retail Federation’s “Big Show” virtual conference.

“We re-platformed our website and put lots of technology in the hands of our associates,” Metrick said. Through the new technology connecting with shoppers, stylists generated $150 million in revenue last year, Metrick said.

“We were so prepared going into the pandemic to meet customers’ needs. Customers want personalization. They want things to be easy. We also know it’s not the new normal. It’s just the next normal because things are ever-changing,” Metrick said while being interviewed by Colleen Taylor, American Express president of merchant services, U.S.

Despite reduced in-store shopper traffic due to the pandemic, “Stores are still important, especially for luxury. It’s the theater. People want to go to the theater. They don’t want to just stream it online. For the better part of the pandemic, our stores are slightly negative, since we reopened” last June, after temporarily shutting down in March.

“The digital business began to fire up even more when the stores were opened,” Metrick added.

“The pandemic to us was an accelerant of change,” he said.

The re-platformed saks.com launched in October, but Saks was already a year and a half into the re-platforming with Salesforce, Metrick said. He is also “providing the sales associates with more technology to meet customers’ needs better than what was already there.” Through the Salesforce Commerce Cloud, saks.com can capture more data on users, leading to messaging that furthers personalization.

Saks’ overarching strategy, dubbed “luxury disrupted” has three pillars: don’t forget the fashion; ease, meaning providing a “frictionless” shopping experience, and third, personalization. “We are actually building technology to connect the in-store experience with online experience.”

Metrick said that through the pandemic, while many employees work from home, “the two things I found is that for our associates to really keep them engaged is empathy and communication. It’s really important, as a leader, to communicate all the time…about what’s going on at the company, where the company’s soul is, what we stand for. As a younger generation takes on more of a role, it’s important they understand what the company stands for.”

Metrick, who has been working at Saks since 1995, said innovative ideas spring from “having the right environment where people feel comfortable presenting ideas. We have to create an environment where people can raise their hands and say I have an idea. We need to break down some of the silos and levels, and really think about the business in a different way.”

Metrick said he periodically holds “office hours” where associates are invited into his office or gather in groups in common areas, or via Zoom calls to get a dialogue going. “Feedback is such an important part of motivating a team that we have to find ways to do it all the time,” Metrick said.

Personalization involves figuring out how each customer prefers to interact with Saks, through text, email, phone calls, coming into the store, or perhaps a postcard.

“We have to now amplify what customer service looks like in digital,” said Metrick. “Online, we have to work very hard to differentiate those experiences.”

Being a privately owned company, Saks officials do not reveal statistics on sales or profits, though Metrick gave the impression that business has been better than expected. “I was surprised pleasantly by the resiliency of our consumer. People were buying in the height of the pandemic. They view luxury as the comfort food. It’s your Oreo cookie — something that will make you feel better. Fashion is going to prevail.”

Marc Metrick 

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