Karin Darmanin

Skepticism about the future of department stores was a  hot topic at the summit. When Karin Darmanin, Macy’s executive vice president, general merchandise manager of men’s and children’s apparel, took the stage, she didn’t shy away from the subject, saying it doesn’t overly concern her.

“I think that’s because we’re kind of used to the pivot,” she said. “We’re accustomed to having to adjust and be agile to respond to the way the market is changing. Every time it’s hard to do and it’s hard work, but we’re used to it.”

“We’re trying to make conversions easier for men in the store,” Darmanin said. “That is really incumbent upon us and also in the merchandising office. A few people called us out on that today and it was fair. We have to make the choice to tell him, ‘this is the item of the season,’ and put the whole look together for him.”

Darmanin said Macy’s is boldly standing behind its merchandising decisions. “We have a lot of conviction behind our buys,” she said. “When he’s in the store and he sees what the trend is, he can convert. Our strategy is to say, ‘This is going where we’re putting our money.’ We’re going to edit away all the noise so [our point of view] is obvious to the customer.”

Millennials’ shopping habits are driving some of the retailer’s decisions. “Online is obviously a really important part of the business, but they’re engaging with our brand across all channels, and it’s our job to leverage their experience wherever they are,” Darmanin said. “The thing that’s really important is converting mobile.”

To illustrate how inseparable Millennials and their phones are, Darmanin quoted statistics such as that smartphone adoption in U.S. was 80 percent at the end of 2016; mobile apps now account for more than half of the total time consumers spend with digital; the average person looks at his or her phone 46 times a day; Millennials look at their phones 74 times a day, and four out of 10 Millennials interact with their phones more than with anyone or anything else.

Macy’s, like other retailers, is looking for ways to attract shoppers to stores when a barrage of fashion information is available on the Internet.

“Social media has provided a platform for fashion to be accessible for everyone,” Darmanin said. “It’s democratized fashion. It used to be that the guy reading GQ would know what was cool and he’d be one of the mavens who lead and trigger the trends. Millennials definitely started that energy and are moving that forward and probably consuming more of the fashion faster.

“There’s a transformational thing happening and it’s affecting everybody’s response to fashion,” Darmanin added. “I  joke around about the phenomenon of not being seen twice in same outfit. That’s not true just of Millennials, it’s true of families. You’re going with your husband to an event or your son is going to a concert and there’s the need to be in the next outfit for the next event. It’s not just about Millennials, everybody knows their photos will be on social media.”

Men aren’t only changing how they buy, they’re changing what they buy. Ath-leisure’s impact is being seen on other parts of the wardrobe. “Stretch is such a big part of every fabrication,” Darmanin said.”It’s transformed every classification from jeans to dress shirts. It’s transformed all of fashion.”

The new Ryan Seacrest Distinction collection, the brand’s expansion into lifewear, is exclusive to Macy’s and will make mixing and matching pieces from his broader line a no-brainer. “We’re putting it in the tailored clothing department,” she said. “We want to give the guy an easy conversion opportunity in the store. We want to say, ‘You bought this suit, here’s the great hoodie that will take it to the next look.’ We want to make sure we leverage the purchase for the night or casual morning. We have different parts of the wardrobe with Ryan Seacrest and with Distinction, we can dress it up or down or give it a little bit of an edge.”

Customer segmentation is helping Macy’s hone in on the needs of specific shoppers, while dividing the men’s area into quadrants allows the retailer to merchandise around lifestyles. Within each lifestyle, must-haves are displayed. “We set a very high bar for ourselves in terms of knowing what the [top] brands are, and we’re pushing the envelope,” Darmanin said. “The editing of assortments is a big part of that. That’s what buying is, knowing what all the choices are and picking the right ones.”

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