Saks' Luxury Battle Plan: Focus on Shoppers' Needs To Redefine Retail Image

Saks Fifth Avenue is banking on “world class” customer service to replenish its cache in the fiercely competitive luxury segment.

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“How do retail brands work? People come in and search, and shop, discover, integrate and combine products,” Wilson said, adding that it is followed by a wild moment when someone is told she looks great, and is then asked what is she wearing. She will name a designer, but no mentions of Saks, Wilson said.

One way to enhance both the shopping experience at Saks and the brand image is to have all the departments communicating and coordinating with each other. “We had a neckwear buyer with one taste and a sportswear buyer with a contemporary taste,’’ Wilson said. “We were a department store box of brands, with no value other than being a box of brands instead of a link of all those brands.”

As for serving the customer, “American service standards have slipped,” Wilson said. “It has more to do with insults, an imposition on the server [with customers] faceless, meaningless, easily ignored or scorned. Saks Fifth Avenue is leading the change. In dozens of ways, large and small, service does matter.”

Where the typical ceo is at the top, the SFAE structure has now flipped so the associates are at the top. The emphasis is to make it easier for the sales associate to connect with the consumer.

Regarding merchandising, Wilson said there has been a 40 percent reduction in goods on the floor, as well as fewer fixtures. However, “there are mannequins coming up the kazoo to give consumers clues on how to put outfits together.”

The retailer is also putting some passion in its strategy.

“The most important weapon is the human soul on fire,’’ Jennings said. “Our team has that energy, personalization and synergy to take the organization to whole new level.”

For Jennings, whose focus has been on operations, the refocused SFA represents a change in how divisions have been operating and placing “ownership and accountability at every level of the organization.”

The emphasis, when done correctly, strengthens the customer relationship on a one-to-one basis. “We develop customers into friends…Saks really cares about how customers look and how they feel,” Jennings said.
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