NRF 2021: Retail's Big Show

Saks Fifth chief says luxury retail has been 'comfort food' for some shoppers during the pandemic

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Key Points
  • Saks Fifth Avenue Chief Executive Marc Metrick said luxury retail has been like "comfort food" for some shoppers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • "I think what we learned is [consumers] view luxury as the comfort food of retail," he said at the NRF's Big Show event. "It was their way to feel — it was something so much more and so much deeper than a pair of shoes."
  • Luxury retailers including the high-end department store chain Neiman Marcus and jeweler Tiffany have reported a similar trend over the past year: Wealthy shoppers looking to splurge even more on themselves during hard times.
A pedestrian passes in front of the Saks Fifth Avenue Inc. women's store at Brookfield Place in New York, U.S.
Allison Joyce | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Saks Fifth Avenue Chief Executive Marc Metrick said luxury retail has been like "comfort food" for some shoppers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"People were buying things in the height of the pandemic that there was no absolute functional end use for, but they love the fashion," Metrick said Thursday during a virtual presentation at the National Retail Federation's Big Show event. "I think what we learned is [consumers] view luxury as the comfort food of retail. ... It was their way to feel — it was something so much more and so much deeper than a pair of shoes."

"Why else would you buy 110-millimeter pumps ... from a from a luxury brand, when you're working at home and on Zoom all day?" he said. "You do it because you love fashion, and it's your Oreo cookie. It's your — something that's going to make you feel better."

For Saks, he added, "that was proof of concept [that] fashion is going to prevail."

Luxury retailers including the high-end department store chain Neiman Marcus and LVMH-owned Tiffany have reported a similar trend over the past year: Wealthy shoppers looking to splurge even more on themselves during hard times. Many of these consumers have been spending less money on travel and dining out, with so many social activities curtailed during the health crisis, and instead have been ringing up more designer handbags, diamond rings and extravagant home décor.

Metrick said interest in Saks' personal-shopper service has also risen during the pandemic, in part for safety reasons, but also because people are out looking for things to do.

"When you're shopping for luxury products, you want the experience," he said. "You don't want it to be simply a transaction."

A store-within-a-store called "Barneys at Saks" debuted on the fifth floor of the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City earlier this month. The Barneys New York department store chain filed for bankruptcy in 2019, but the brand is living on at Saks, with another one of these mini stores slated to open later this month, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

"Stores are still important," Metrick said. "For luxury especially, it's the theater."

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