Saks Fifth Avenue is seeing major changes this year.
Last month, parent company Hudson’s Bay Co. separated the retailer’s website into a standalone business from its stores following a $500 million infusion from a venture capital firm. Saks’ brick-and-mortar fleet of 40 stores will operate separately and be referred to as SFA. Meanwhile, Hudson’s Bay Co. announced that it had entered into a partnership with Insight Partners, which made a minority equity investment in Saks — the name of the new standalone e-commerce entity.
So what does this mean for customers?
According to Will Cooper, SVP/GMM of Women’s Shoes, Handbags, and Accessories at Saks Fifth Avenue, the consumer should benefit from more choice.
“From a merchandising strategy, this positions us to actually offer more to the customers — to have broader assortments within existing brands and also have the opportunity to go after more brands,” he told FN. “The investment poised us to grow both channels.”
Here, Cooper talks trends, the return of heels and key predictions for the rest of the year.
How is your shoe assortment changing for 2021?
“Through the pandemic, it was a sneaker game. Sneakers were such a huge part of the business, and through fall that evolved into what I call comfy, cozy cold-weather, stay-at-home type of product. We have seen very quickly over the last four to six weeks, a move to customers buying dressier shoes. Sandals have really taken off and the sports sandal trend is huge right now.”
How are you balancing comfort with more fashion-forward styles?
“Comfort is still important in the shoe business. I think it will very much continue to stay that way. However, there are some really over the top fashion high heels selling. The customer is looking for something that’s a real wow moment. So it’s not not just any heel. It’s mostly high-heeled sandals. We’re certainly not selling a classic pump right now. If we are selling a pump, it’s something really fun and bold. Heels right now have to be something really forward, like a Christian Louboutin or Aminua Muaddi.”
What shoe brands have proved successful in this challenging time?
“Amina Muaddi is one of the most requested brands. She is selling phenomenally well and sold phenomenally well even through the pandemic. Overall, we’ve seen customers reacting to brand name designer brands, such as Chanel, Gucci, Christian Louboutin, Balenciaga and Dior. Labels like Tory Burch have also been phenomenal through the pandemic. All of these brands have something that makes them identifiable when you’re wearing it, which is what the customer [is looking for].”
Is there still a space for emerging labels to succeed at retail with many focusing on their own DTC channels? Are there any new brands gaining traction this year?
“Were always out there looking for new designers. It’s super important to us as a fashion leader and also to help brands succeed with their development. We’re very excited about Gia Borghini, which is getting nice traction right away. We launched Manebi. And then accessories from ready-to-wear brands Khaite and Veronica Beard are taking off.”
What are some emerging shoe trends to watch for spring and summer?
“We’re starting to see customers get more dressed up again. So our dress business, our blouse business has taken off. And she’s searching more for wedges, high-heeled sandals. Block heels will be important through the summer”
What markets are hot right now?
“We’ve seen really strong success in markets from Atlanta, all through Florida, and Houston. Many of these cities are growing cities so we’re seeing our business grow there and we’re seeing a lot of new customers come into these stores.”
Outside of footwear, where do you see growth opportunities?
“The handbag business. It’s driven a lot by mini small bags. It’s a price point thing as it’s the entry into some of these brand names. Sunglasses and belts are also areas of opportunities.”
How will the industry evolve as we enter the post-pandemic chapter?
“I’m optimistic and I think you see it in what’s selling. Our business has been very strong in footwear. My predictions are that comfort will always be key. That will not go away. That’s why shoes like sports sandals will continue. But I think that there are a lot of the customers looking to get more and more dressed up. I see a need for them to have more dressy shoes going into fall — and particularly holiday.”