Dust off the image of Lord & Taylor as a stodgy department store for an older customer.
“I think if anyone has spent time in our stores recently, they’d see that we have evolved way beyond,” said MaryAnne Morin, executive vice president and chief merchant of Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor.
Morin spoke during WWD’s inaugural Fashion Forum, held Sunday in downtown Las Vegas at the recently built The Venue.
The event space and downtown revitalization are both part of a $350 million redevelopment bid by Zappos.com Inc. ceo Tony Hsieh to remake the area. But it also proved a fitting locale for Morin’s talk, which focused on the future of Hudson’s Bay Company as it relates to technology and relevance among younger shoppers.
Morin in February was promoted to her current position, as head merchant overseeing women’s, men’s and kids.
Part of the transformation that’s been taking place at Lord & Taylor is being driven by contemporary sales over the past few years on both the men’s and women’s sides. The company’s also responded to demand for dresses, activewear and fragrances for both men’s and women’s. They’re all categories, Morin said, that have seen strong performance.
“So, yes, we may have a heritage in that [perception of being a store for an older female], but we are evolving beyond that,” she said.
Changing perceptions, at the end of the day, comes down to product.
“The thing you have to remember is that it’s all about product and I am really, really passionate about product because that is the reason people come to our stores or come to our Web sites to buy,” she said.
On the Hudson’s Bay side, the company in the fall will test a 10,000-square-foot concept store in Vancouver that mixes men’s and women’s apparel and footwear.
It’s unlikely the prototype would be rolled out on a large-scale basis given the amount of real estate needed, but it’s possible elements of it could be infused into stores, Morin said.
The company’s also not ignoring the rapid change that’s taking place in the digital landscape with several initiatives being tested or considered.
“There’s no doubt that digital is the number-one channel of growth happening in our company as well as many other companies,” she said. “Yes, we are growing digital [but we’re] also looking at how to funnel that back into stores.”
Digital cash registers that are Web-enabled are just being launched and will allow store associates access to a much broader base of inventory as well as communicate with customers via e-mail or text. The company also uses beacons, a technology a number of retailers are testing that essentially “talks” to customers through their smartphones by using a bluetooth signal as shoppers browse the floor.
The company’s also been active in social media. Lord & Taylor in April partnered with 50 bloggers to introduce the Design Lab brand to their followings via a paisley-patterned dress that made a big splash throughout the Instagram universe. The program, though it received some criticism for the lack of transparency by bloggers who failed to mention they were paid by the company, was ultimately hailed by many as a major success. Instagram feeds were flooded with the dress and it sold out, much to the company’s surprise. The experience was also a learning experience for the company as it continues to explore those types of partnerships moving forward.
“We’re looking at [the work with bloggers] all the time,” Morin said. “I would say that the most important thing we learned from this is it has to be authentic. It can’t be created; it can’t be made up.”
The communication with customers, no matter the channel, at the end of the day is key: “It’s all about different ways of communicating and that whole seamless experience,” Morin said.