After posting strong second and third quarters, Bloomingdale’s, like its sister division Macy’s, is anticipating the same for the fourth quarter.
“We had a great third quarter. We had a great second quarter and we plan on having a good fourth quarter,” said Tony Spring, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s, in an interview Thursday following the unveiling of the retailer’s holiday windows and in-store performances by Bebe Rexha, the Broadway Sinfonietta, and the Broadway Inspirational Voices Choir.
Discussing the character of holiday shopping, past and present, Spring said, “If 2019 was all in person and 2020 was remote, 2021 is a hybrid and that may be the best of both worlds…People feel it’s time to get out a little bit. More people feel like they want to shop in stores.
“I wouldn’t begin to quote traffic. We don’t have enough traffic counters in stores to give an accurate picture, but the stores are certainly busier week-over-week. And you are beginning to see a bit of tourism. It’s been happening since the beginning of the month, both domestic and international,” since the federal government said beginning Nov. 8 it was OK for international travelers to come into the U.S. provided they were vaccinated, Spring added.
“One thing we learned during the pandemic is that life is short. Why not enjoy it? That’s why you are seeing this conspicuous consumption right now,” Spring said. “Looking at people entering our stores, you see the happiness on their faces. People feel this is a perfect time” to shop, particularly after they’ve opened their closets and in many cases haven’t much liked what’s there, Spring said.
To a greater extent, they are willing to pay full price. “There isn’t as much sale or clearance,” Spring said. “The benefit, if you want to call it that, of the pandemic has been leaner inventories and I don’t think that’s something we are going to back away from. Customers’ appetite for things is at regular price and she is happy about that.” The increased consumer demand, the willingness to buy at full price and leaner inventories, “all that is the power of the current environment,” said Spring.
“I think it’s always better to chase [merchandise] than to load up. We don’t want to have excess. We are in the business at the upper end of creating a little bit of scarcity around special product. That doesn’t mean not having enough for the customer or not having options.”
Spring suggested that this season, perhaps more so than recent past ones, could also see greater self-purchasing. “You know the best holiday seasons are always ‘buy one for you, two for me.’ So hopefully people are buying for themselves and buying for others. It’s going to be a good holiday season.”
Last quarter, Bloomingdale’s comparable sales were up 38.5 percent compared to the third quarter of 2020, and up 11.2 percent compared to the third quarter of 2019. Results were driven by strong sales of luxury handbags, fine jewelry, home, men’s shoes and contemporary apparel.
There was “an outperformance” in Q3 against 2019 largely driven by growth in bloomingdales.com, though Spring also called out “activations” in stores to encourage in-person shopping. “There are 12 different activations here in the flagship and it’s also done selectively around the country,” at Bloomingdale’s 32 other full-line stores.
“The biggest experience that will be at 59th Street over the course of the fourth quarter that you will see is a ‘fragrance fair.’ It will be in all of our stores. We will bring in an engraver to make the bottles personal, or a florist who helps you find the perfect note for the person you love.”
Just for the holiday season, the flagship has set up a Klarna-sponsored custom wrap station and Santaland for photos with Santa; celebrity and designer holiday table settings being auctioned to support Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS; Ralph Lauren’s Polo shop has been transformed into an Italian ski chalet serving hot chocolate, and there’s a Coravin pop-up wine bar — the first in the U.S. — demonstrating wine and Champagne preservation systems. Online, Bloomingdale’s has a series of virtual events on holiday entertaining and holiday dressing.
Being more experiential for the holidays requires more manpower. “We are certainly hiring,” said Spring. “We usually hire through the beginning of December, and then we will cut off holiday hiring and resume full-time hiring. It’s a competitive labor market.”
Bloomingdale’s 59th Street’s six holiday windows along Lexington Avenue are whimsical, imaginative, colorful and in sync with the store’s “Give Happy” holiday campaign. There’s a nostalgic nod with modern twists in each, like the T-Rex dinosaur wearing headphones, riding a skateboard and draped in mini-dinosaur ornaments like a Christmas tree. Or the window that’s a take on a music box, with a spinning ballerina emerging from a seashell draped in sparkle and shine and activated by a lock and key. A third window is a little more down to earth, celebrating all things crochet on the walls and floor and on mannequins snuggled together in a crochet loveseat.
Of a more permanent basis, “We’re about to open a new men’s floor in December having had success on the women’s shoe floor,” said Spring. “We know men’s shoes needs to be a destination. It was always just a component of our men’s sportswear offering and we want to have a destination just for men’s footwear. It celebrates big brands and showcases Bloomingdale’s curation.”
It reflects a stepped-up emphasis on growing the shoe business. Bloomingdale’s recently launched shoe shops for Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Valentino. Coming up in early 2022 are Versace shops for ready-to-wear, shoes and handbags.
“Over the last couple of years, you see more designer content. We carry more designer brands today than we have in the past. But we are best when we go from offering the best in opening prices to the best in the designer industry,” said Spring.
Bloomingdale’s assortment will broaden when Macy’s Inc. launches a marketplace, which is expected to happen in the second half of 2020 for the Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s divisions, as reported. Asked what new categories Bloomingdale’s could get into, Spring replied. “It will be a curated marketplace. Details to follow.”
Spring’s message is that Bloomingdale’s is on a roll not only because of the consumer mind-set. It’s in large part due to Bloomingdale’s doing what it’s always done — offering “a fun, energetic environment” for shopping; breadth and flexibility in assortment; playing on the power of suggestion, i.e. providing gift lists and stylists with shopping ideas, and having a cross-generational appeal.
Asked in what categories Bloomingdale’s put more of its holiday open-to-buy, Spring responded, “The weight is in the variety. One of the advantages of a retailer like Bloomingdale’s is in the flexibility of our assortment, so that’s both from home to fragrance to cashmere to Ugg and to the price points, be it designer diamonds, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, to Aqua,” Bloomingdale’s private brand and opening price contemporary collection. “As a destination, Bloomingdale’s has become more of a compelling marketplace. You can buy for more people here, for the love of your life, for your daughter’s teacher, your neighbor, your cousin, your aunt. There are just lots of fun items. The marketing and merchandise team did a great job in terms of creating curated ideas and gift lists for our customers, whether it was themed for people who just got married or still haven’t got married or for the person who has everything.”
He believes there’s an energy at Bloomingdale’s, which is lacking in other retailers. “I’m not saying we are Disney World. But I think there is a curation of merchandise, a curation of eventing, a curation of visual animation. I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me Bloomingdale’s is more fun, that there is more energy in the store. Where does energy come from? It’s the people, the music, the visual animation. You see a diversity of customers. You see young people. Mature people. Different ethnicities. The brand is a draw for lots of customers.”
He hopes Bloomingdale’s nascent specialty concept, Bloomies, has a draw with its own type of merchandising and curation. The first and only Bloomies, a 22,000-square-foot site in the Mosaic District lifestyle center in Fairfax, Va., opened at the end of last August. It sells a “highly curated” assortment of contemporary and luxury brands and gifts for the home. “It’s a chance to introduce ourselves to the community with a new shopping option,” said Spring.
Asked if other Bloomies are planned, he answered, “It did get off to a good start. We will take it one day at a time. You don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s about finding the right locations.”