Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — Luxury e-tailer is viewing a narrow slice of cyberspace with a wide-angle lens.
It’s focusing on the top echelon of the designer business and growing it big online as part of an intensified effort to be more like sibling Neiman Marcus Stores, where designer apparel is the fashion star. is a division of Neiman Marcus Direct, which also includes a recently reformatted catalog division that’s now placing greater emphasis on designer categories as well.
Neiman Marcus Group is making no secret that playing up top-tier luxury businesses on the Internet, including beauty and accessories, is paramount. It has invested $10 million in in the first half of 2001 and plans to spend another $10 million in the second half.
Cybershoppers can now find over 100 designer boutiques at the Neiman’s site, up fourfold from last fall, with more on the way. And its pioneering Manolo Blahnik 3-D virtual boutique, which mimics shopping in a real store right down to sunshine and moonlight, could soon be getting some company as there are tentative plans to expand the 3-D concept later this year.
This bricks-slicks-and-clicks, or multichannel, approach to courting monied consumers is an integral aspect of long-term growth plans at parent Neiman Marcus Group, spearheaded by newly crowned chief executive officer Burton M. Tansky, who is also NMG’s president and chief operating officer and interim chairman and chief executive officer at Neiman Marcus Stores.
“We want to try to speak with one voice,” said Dan Korn, newly named executive vice president at Neiman Marcus Internet, in an exclusive interview last week. “With the three-channel approach to doing business, we’re presenting a singular point of view for fashion and designers. Our Internet merchandisers work with stores and catalog merchandisers.”
To articulate and guide the Web growth, Neiman Marcus Online is building its ranks and now has about 40 employees, including newly hired Korn along with Jimmy Hale, vice president of Web technology. Both Korn and Hale joined Neiman Marcus Online in December and report to Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer at Neiman Marcus Direct, which posted sales of $363.8 million in fiscal 2000, up 13.1 percent.
Neiman’s officials wouldn’t divulge what percentage of Neiman Marcus Direct’s volume is generated by but said it’s a growing component. Though the 18-month-old Web site has yet to become profitable, officials said business is robust. They said sales tripled in the second quarter, and hits are climbing precipitously — especially from coveted upscale and highly discerning shoppers that help define the Neiman Marcus esthetic — but did not specify. According to Internet consultant Jupiter Media Metrix, in February, for example, had 175,000 visitors.
Now those visitors can check out the site’s vibrant new look that is being updated at least every two weeks to reflect breaking designer trends and fresh merchandising perspectives. At press time, the landing pad featured a luscious lime green backdrop, clean visuals, and snappy, concise copy playing up citrus-tone styles, which is a hot designer trend for spring.
“Trend: Citrus,” proclaimed the landing-pad headline. “Fashion is awash in fresh-squeezed color, and we have the pick of the crop in lime, lemon, orange, even grapefruit. Just click to shop for something juicy.” The page also features a trend roundup of other citrus-themed merchandise, from home and spa items to beauty merchandise, all available with a single mouse click.
Browsers not in the mood for the citrus punch can easily navigate to the site’s plethora of designer apparel, beauty or accessories boutiques such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Kate Spade, Manolo Blahnik or Laura Mercier. There’s also a seasonal trend list of must-have items, a link to facilitate ordering from Neiman’s catalogs, and a button to find assistance from a personal shopper, long a hallmark of Neiman’s pampering philosophy. Personal shoppers can use a virtual photography studio to cherry-pick outfits and e-mail photos of them to individual customers. Neiman’s also is aiming to make navigating the site easier with the rollout of new back-room technology that’s designed to expedite browsing and purchasing time.
“Everything we’re doing is focused on making the experience fashion-driven and also improving the fashion search-and-checkout functions,” Korn noted. He added that Neiman’s merchandisers play a pivotal role in the evolving look of the Web site, including the landing pad that’s refreshed every two weeks to reflect the latest fashion trends. And over the past six months, those trends have become more prominent on the landing pad.
The site’s growing priority on designer boutiques reflects the needs of Neiman’s shoppers, so all women’s ready-to-wear designers will eventually have their own boutiques. “The Neiman Marcus customer likes to shop by designer versus classification, such as dresses or suits,” Korn related. “So we’ve built a lot of our functionality and visual presentation around showcasing the designers that we carry.”
“In addition to offering what we think is the leading selection of designers, we want to provide customers with the latest information on fashion trends and with the ability to shop by trends,” said vice president of Web technology Hale. “If they want to see hot colors or hot items then they can go right into those. It’s a popular way to shop. We’ve found that certain customers like clean and quick interface, so we’re now offering a text-based absolute fastest download,” Hale continued. “And [most] customers do gravitate right toward the designer name. We’re using text navigation to drive a customer right to the particular designer boutique in which they’re most interested.
“Interestingly, once a designer customer gets to their desired destination,” Hale added, “they then may want to become more immersed in the Internet shopping experience. Regardless of how long they shop, checkout flow is faster and terminology is more intuitive.”