This Christmas, I did something I haven’t done in a while: I let my laptop sit cold when it came to shopping for gifts, and headed uptown to see what I could find for friends and family.
I first went to Barney’s, who is sadly going bankrupt, and has several stewards walking up and down 5th and Madison avenues with sign suits proclaiming ‘everything must be sold!’. When in Barney’s, though offering deals, still no-one seemed to want to invest in luxury. Racks frothed over, full of gowns, brilliantly colored sweaters, and pleated skirts. I am a fashion fan, but I was overwhelmed, and left.
The tone seemed the same at Bloomingdales and Saks. Though they didn’t have large signs everywhere offering most of their wares for a steal, attentive sales associates were hard to find. In Bloomingdales, I wandered around several sections, asking for help. One man told me he was on break, another busied himself steaming. I overheard some workers saying they couldn’t wait to go home. How’s that for holiday spirit? The whole process was so tiring, that I wished I had stayed in front of the glow of my warm computer monitor and simply ordered exactly what I needed in the exact size I wanted in a just few quick clicks.
At Bloomingdales, I found what I needed, waited to get it wrapped–for an hour–then happily brought it home. My family loved most of what I bought–except two items that still had alarm sensors on them. Face palm. As I made my way back uptown in an Uber to get the sensors removed, my driver let me out. He said, “Do you work around here?” I told him, no I was making returns. He said, “I used to work at Barney’s, but they’re closing, so now I do this.”
Coming up in the fashion industry, there was nothing like that aspirational feeling of stepping into a Barneys or Bergdorfs and getting that retail experience. Trying on multiple items, receiving great customer service, getting a bottle of water or maybe even a glass of champagne to wet your palette. Granted, the lack of customer service could have been due to overwhelmed holiday employees, but the sparkle seems gone. The shopping landscape simply ain’t what it used to be.
As we’ve seen with the boom of Fashion Nova, there are billion dollar goldmines online. And the success of Zara shows that people want the luxury and quality–but for less.
All is not lost, women still have an insatiable need to shop. Mastering online is key, and for those who still rely on foot traffic, give customers the best experience ever to keep them coming back.
The State of Fashion Is: In Transition. High-Low. Mostly Online. For brands, exhaust all options to get and retain customers, because people have options and the power to choose. And they’re choosing wisely.
*To book Claire Sulmers to speak about the State of Fashion, Entrepreneurship, or Retail, email Book@ClaireSulmers.com