Saks CMO: Live Shopping, Younger Consumers Are Changing Luxury

Image above: Actress Emma Roberts in latest campaign

Luxury shoppers keep getting younger, with Gen Z constantly looking for new ways to discover and experience fashion. For Saks Fifth Avenue, owned by Hudson's Bay Company, that's meant a steady state of digital reinvention. Emily Essner, chief marketing officer, tells Retail Insider how the storied retailer is keeping up.

Retail Insider: You just released your latest Luxury Pulse survey. Any of the findings especially surprising to you?

Emily Essner: We are still seeing strength, with 62% saying they expect to spend the same or more in luxury in the next three months as they did in the last three. There's been some softening, but luxury is very durable. And there's still pent-up interest in travel, with 72% saying they're planning a trip or have already booked one. So there's still this sense of making up for lost time. And our consumer is shopping for those trips.

Retail Insider: Who is your core shopper these days?

Essner: Looking back even a few years ago, we started seeing that our customer was naturally getting younger. I'll be honest, this has not been an intentional strategy of ours. But when it started happening, we thought it was a fantastic indication of where the brand is going and how people perceive us. It wasn't something that we had planned for.

Retail Insider: Department stores haven't had an easy time, and customers can shop the luxury brands available in Saks in many other places. How do you make it different?

Essner: We want you to feel like it's a luxurious experience. We want you to think that we are a fashion authority and you're getting the best. We're an icon, and we want you to feel some resonance. And we want you to be inspired by what we're offering and how we're talking to you. We want you to feel welcome and see yourself in us.

Retail Insider: How does your ecommerce emphasize those qualities?

Essner: About two years ago, we spun out our digital business with separate investment -- and that has supercharged our growth. We have grown faster than any of our competitors. And a lot of our opportunity, from a marketing perspective, is having consumers think of us as an ecommerce player as well as a company with stores.

Retail Insider: You recently introduced a spring ad campaign starring actress Emma Roberts. How does that help you connect with Gen Z and younger millennials?

Essner: One of our brand pillars is inclusivity, and it has been for a long time. We're committed to being a place for everyone. That's true if you're a veteran luxury shopper or if this is new to you. We love them all.

So in this campaign, we love that Emma Roberts brings up that point. She's approachable and down-to-earth. She shares what she's wearing to book club or with her son. We're focused on making sure that customers think of Saks not just for special occasions but for their entire lifestyle.

Retail Insider: Where are you reaching them?

Essner: Our customers are always online, so the vast majority of our marketing investment is digital. We're active in TikTok, which is an awareness opportunity for us. It's not a huge part of our mix, but we're testing. We try and get on all new platforms to understand whether they are big or small opportunities.

Retail Insider: Regarding content and inspiration, what are your customers looking for now?

Essner: Consumers understand that we represent more than just fashion, so we're interested in creating content or ways to invite them to experience something bigger than they might be able to figure out alone. That links in with our personalization strategy. We call it our customer DNA, with 250-plus predictive and prescriptive attributes. That data spans digital and stores, and informs our content.

We want to inspire people for their next purchase and, more broadly, about our role in the culture. So content and inspiration tie together nicely on experiences here. They range from fantastic, high-touch experiences -- like, we've sent a handful of our best customers to Fashion Week in Paris, Milan or New York with front-row seats. But they also include smaller, in-person events.

Retail Insider: What kind of events resonate most?

Essner: Live events and live commerce. It brings fashion to life. We feature multiple events every week. They're always available, 24/7, so people can go back and see any prior event. If you're there live, you get to engage with the host, which is super exciting.

Before we had these events, we always tried to figure out how to get more engagement -- and this way, we have it, and it is scalable. It can be everything from Roopal Patel, our fashion director, talking about trends, to an expert stylist sharing her wedding plans.

Retail Insider: Who is the core shopper for live events?

Essner: It tends to be an engaged customer who wants to get deeper with the brand. And it leads to purchasing. We certainly see a bit of an uptick in items we feature. These shoppers have bigger baskets and more frequency.

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