The buying culture is changing fast at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Saks last January partnered with NuOrder, a business-to-business marketplace, to streamline and digitize its buying process. Currently, 150 Saks vendors — Christian Louboutin, Balenciaga, Theory, Rag & Bone, Burberry and Balmain among them — have adopted the platform. That’s just a small percentage of the thousands of vendors on the Saks matrix, though executives expect by the end of the year, most of the retailer’s vendors in men’s, women’s and kids, apparel, footwear and accessories (not beauty and home) will be up on the technology.
Five months ago, Saks considered NuOrder a pilot program. But with the onset of COVID-19 and its challenges, the partnership is being accelerated.
“We have been evolving our merchandise strategy to continually deliver the best edit for our customers, when and where they want it. While these efforts have been under way for some time, the current environment has given us the opportunity to accelerate our plans,” said Tracy Margolies, chief merchant of Saks Fifth Avenue. “Our adoption of NuOrder’s data-driven platform is an important step in our strategy, enabling us to better collaborate with our vendor partners, drive inventory efficiency and ensure merchandise effectiveness across all touchpoints.”
“It certainly does change our buying culture,” added Will Cooper, Saks’ senior vice president and general merchandise manager for women’s shoes, handbags and accessories. “It digitizes our buying process in a visual way, in real time. We can actually see what our assortments look like, right down to the store level, in real time. There’s a huge time savings. NuOrder greatly improves our efficiency by collaborating with vendors more quickly and also by getting the products to our stores faster.”
NuOrder enables Saks to curtail the time and travel costs of visiting showrooms, but it’s not a complete substitute for actually touching the merchandise, and conducting in-person meetings that establish tighter relationships. “Our intention is to be back in the showrooms,” Cooper said. “This is not a full replacement for doing things in person.” Undoubtedly, the designers most critical to the business will still be visited.
For the buyers, a few hours of training is required to learn the system. “It is very intuitive and user-friendly. The technology is easy to use. And recently with COVID-19, many of the vendors have enhanced their photography and are providing a lot of video content,” Cooper said. With the technology, vendors can provide photos of styles, and videos of runway shows and marketing campaigns. Photos can be enlarged to see in greater detail and can be spun around to view the fashion from all sides.
Buyers first virtually review designer and brand collections, and then curate, merchandise and make the buy online. They can shape the buy across categories, prices and trends as well as at the individual store level, or by a cluster of stores, such as “A” locations or stores in warm or cold climates.
The technology digitizes the buying process, which is otherwise labor intensive, bogged down by paperwork, and entails a lot of traveling and back and forth to showrooms and juggling open-to-buys. Buyers can track open-to-buy in real-time to know what’s being spent and how much o-t-b remains. Historically, the turnover rate of buyers has been very high because of the nature of the job.
Additionally, NuOrder facilitates a more coordinated, collaborative approach to building assortments and merchandising the selling floors. One buyer can see what another one is ordering. For example, a dress buyer ordering animal prints can view all the animal prints already shopped by other buyers at the store in other categories. It’s a “holistic” or “global” view of what’s being bought across brands and categories. Divisional and general merchandise managers can review what buyers are doing, and make changes before finalizing buys. Planners also utilize the technology. In the future, Saks’ fashion office, e-commerce and marketing teams could use the technology.
Saks vendors get free access to a more streamlined and integrated selling experience through the use of centralized, digital line sheets and catalogs, as well as the ability to collaborate in real-time.
Saks joins Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom in utilizing NuOrder. Neiman Marcus utilizes Joor, another b-to-b marketplace and competitor to NuOrder.
“In the current environment, no one is traveling,” said NuOrder’s cofounder and co-chief executive officer Olivia Skuza. “NuOrder allows Saks to go to market completely virtually and digitally. Their buyers are now in our marketplace looking at product catalogues, making selections, curating the buy with brands and actually finalizing buys. Before the market appointment, buyers go online to preview the digital catalogue brands have uploaded ahead of time, before they meet with the brands. It’s ‘pre-gaming,’ to make sure they’re ready for the market appointment.…It’s a collaborative virtual experience, proving you don’t have to travel. In the future, this will most certainly compliment in person visits, but rather than sending out very large teams, decisions about which brands buyers travel to see will be made.”
According to NuOrder’s other co-founder and co-ceo, Heath Wells, the Los Angeles-based company has 500,000 retail clients connecting with 2,000 brands and has been processing more than $35 billion in gross merchandise value. Thousands of those retailers are mom and pop shops that utilize NuOrder for free with limited functionality, while bigger, multiple-door retailers, such as Nordstrom and Saks, pay an annual fee to utilize the NuOrder “enterprise” platform.
“At the moment, we’re in talks with Hudson’s Bay and Saks Off 5th,” Skuza added, referring to Saks Fifth Avenue’s sister divisions at the Hudson’s Bay Co. “Now more than ever, the industry needs to evolve how it’s doing business.”