Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC), the Canadian retail group that also owns the Saks Fifth Avenue department-store chain in the United States, is giving store associates the technology to personalize service for repeat customers. In the past year, Saks has provided 4,500 employees, who the chain calls “stylists,” with more data and software tools to help them maintain relationships with customers. The stylists can check what their customers are doing online, gather insights into their needs, and urge them to visit stores to make a purchase, said Helena Foulkes, chief executive of HBC.
The Saks team has been very smart about “using new digital insights and tools to empower our frontline employees to absolutely delight our customers,” she said.
Gen Z And The Rise Of Experiential Shopping
Another trend discussed at the event was the emergence of experiential retail formats to meet the needs of Generation Z, the demographic group born after the mid-1990s who is now reaching adulthood.
Aaron Levant, chief executive of NTWRK, introduced the company’s mobile shopping platform, which was created in the spirt of home shopping networks but aimed squarely at Gen Z consumers, he said. NTWRK features famous guests—such as rapper Travis Scott and actor Jonah Hill—and offers exclusive products for a limited time. The platform also provides streaming video and social media content to create shoppable episodes. Its daily live broadcasts are geared for viewing on mobile devices, Levant said.
Ben Kaufman, chief executive of Camp, a network of experiential retail stores with rotating themes, also discussed ways to engage younger shoppers. The chain’s five stores—three in New York City, one in Dallas, and one in Norwalk, Conn.—may look like a traditional toy retailer. However, each location has a “magic door” to lead shoppers through a tunnel to an experience that changes every eight to 12 weeks, he said. Themes include Base Camp, Travel Camp, Cooking Camp, and Toy Lab Camp.
Camp’s business model is based on three components, Kaufman said: selling products, selling tickets to experiences, and offering sponsorships to brands that can tell their own stories.
A Focus On Sustainability
Many retailers and brands that appeared at the NRF event had much to say about sustainability and all that it entails: ethical sourcing, fair trade, reduced packaging, and the growth of resale and rental services aimed at reducing waste.
One example was Lush Cosmetics North America. Heather Deeth (photo, above, left), manager of ethical buying at Lush, said the company was founded with six core values, including providing fresh cosmetics with production dates, ethical buying, a focus on handmade items, and stringent policies against animal testing.
“At Lush, we’re creating a cosmetics revolution to save the planet,” Deeth said. “I actually think we need a revolution. We all need to participate.”
Then there was West Elm. Jennifer Gootman (photo, above, center), vice president of social consciousness and innovation at the home décor retailer, said her company has followed a simple motto since its founding in 2002: “Get a little greener every day.” The push into ethical production and responsible materials has continued through the years, she said. For example, in 2014 West Elm became the first home retailer to become Fair Trade Certified. Two years later, it set companywide, public goals for responsibly sourced cotton and wood.
“It’s been an evolution, and it’s been a journey,” Gootman said. “I think for a lot of retailers that are really interested in this space, it’s important to recognize [that] everything happens at once. You can evolve and learn and figure out what’s material to your business and develop it from there.”
NRF also featured many speakers from fashion “re-commerce” companies—that is, companies that resell products or offer “thrifting” services. Growing consumer awareness of the environmental side effects of clothing purchases is driving the trend.