The Kardashians Are Not a Sustainable Marketing Strategy — and 6 Other Tips From Some of Retail’s Most Successful Leaders

As the Concrete Jungle buzzes with all of the mayhem and trend-obsessed fanfare that is New York Fashion Week, the major brands and retailers that hope to profit in its aftermath are on the hunt for solid advice.

In a Fashion Week-adjacent event at New York’s Soho House last night — hosted by CNBC anchor Brian Sullivan — more than a dozen retail and technology experts and veterans convened to offer some of their best lessons for thriving through fashion’s evolution.

The panelists — who will form a newly created Retail Influencer Network — included: Karen Katz, former Neiman Marcus CEO and lifer; Stephen Sadove, former Saks Fifth Avenue chairman and CEO; Deborah Weinswig, founder and CEO of Coresight Research; Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation; Matthew Rubel, former chairman, president and CEO of Collective Brands; William Susman, managing director of Threadstone Advisors; Janie Yu, partner at Fung Capital; Melissa Gonzalez, CEO and founder of The Lion’esque Group; Richard Kestenbaum, co-founder and partner at Triangle Capital; Keval Desai, partner at Interwest Partners; Nicole Reyhle, founder of Retail Minded; Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors; Nancy Berger, VP and chief revenue officer at Marie Claire; Pano Anthos, founder and managing director at XRC Labs; and Steve Dennis, president and founder of SageBerry Consulting.

Matthew Shay Brian Sullivan
Matthew Shay (L) and Brian Sullivan.
CREDIT: John Calabrese

Here, FN rounds up seven insights from the night.

Steve Sadove on retail’s next seismic shift:

“Looking back at retail several years ago, the fundamental change that had to take place was omnichannel. Over the last three to five years, retailers made that cultural and leadership change and made the investment to get to an omnichannel world. In my mind, the next retail wins [will relate to two things] — who can [elevate] experience in the stores and the analytics that drive understanding the consumer. That’s as big a change today as omnichannel was five years ago.”

Matthew Rubel Stephen Sadove
Matthew Rubel (L) and Stephen Sadove.
CREDIT: John Calabrese

Pano Anthos on making the most of shoppers’ time:

“We think that back-office operations and everything else that goes on is secondary to consumers’ experience, satisfaction — and the most important commodity in the world, which is time. None of us have more time [in a given day] than anyone else — some of us have more money, but none of us have more time. So time we waste on shopping experience, buying experience — Amazon is crushing us on one-click … 70 percent of people walk out of a store without touching anything. If you don’t touch it, you can’t buy it.”

Matthew Rubel on meeting the consumer where he/she is:

“I don’t believe it’s our job to change consumer expectation. It’s our job to serve and lead the consumer in different ways. They know what they want, and they have access to aspiration. They have desire, and they have needs.”

Karen Katz on retail’s biggest challenge:

“I look at it from the customer perspective. What kinds of problems are we trying to solve? The biggest challenge is: Do we have the right kinds of people to help us solve and think about how we’re going to talk [to and about] the customer?”

karen katz deborah weinswig
Karen Katz (L) and Deborah Weinswig.
CREDIT: John Calabrese

Maya Mikhailov, SVP of marketing at Synchrony, on using data to solve retail’s problems:

“As a financial services company, we say, ‘How can we use the data we’re gathering from our retail partners, from our end of the financial services side, to [help each other] make better decisions?’ We did a survey last year and found that a third of people who walk into stores feel nothing, and another third feel anxiety. That’s not a happy customer.”

William Susman on influencer culture and the Kardashian/Jenner effect:

“The beauty industry has redefined ‘influencer.’ Kylie Jenner can sell $350 million in lipsticks in a short time, but I don’t know if that’s sustainable as a business. There is a huge culture of makeup artists and fashion people [on social media] showing [people] what’s [trendy]. The value of an influencer is less about paying a Kardashian or a Jenner or a Sophia Vergara and more about what’s happening at a grassroots level.”

Stacey Widlitz on the unforeseen challenges of tapping a megacollaborator:

“Tommy Hilfiger started a collaboration with Gigi Hadid about two years ago — She has 40 million Instagram followers. She singlehandedly changed the face of Tommy Hilfiger. The brand literally went from mom shoppers to daughter shoppers overnight. They had [previously] struggled but [started to have better comps.] But here’s the issue: When your brand signs a collaborator that so powerful that [he or she] changes the face of your brand, Gigi becomes Tommy Hilfiger and Tommy Hilfiger becomes Gigi. What happens when the collaboration is over? Gigi Hadid’s collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger is over in the fall … [As a brand], you have to worry about crossing those lines and keeping your identity.”

Stacey Widlitz Nancy Berger Janie Yu
(L-R): Stacey Widlitz, Nancy Berger and Janie Yu.
CREDIT: John Calabrese

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