The fantasy world of fashion

One of my FOF friends was a saleswoman at Bergdorf Goodman. She was a great saleswoman. She was dismissed last year, along with many others, because Bergdorf’s sales were awful. I assume they’re still bad because the store is pretty empty whenever I stroll through.

Nevertheless, Bergdorf Goodman has never stopped buying full-page ads in The New York Times, the Sunday edition, no less. These ads cost beaucoup bucks, but have modest influence over customers since hardly anyone gets their news from newspapers anymore. So they’re surely not looking at the ads. And even if they’re looking, they’re not buying.

Bergdorf’s probably gets its vendors to pay for the ads anyway, since department stores notoriously love to spend their vendors’ money. Unfortunately, many of its suppliers aren’t doing too well, either; less well when they have to shell out for ads no one sees.

The store also produces a ridiculously expensive catalog that it mails a few times a year. Vendors pay to be in that, too. It’s pretty. It’s also a colossal waste of money and time.

Now you know why department store apparel is so expensive. It’s not necessarily because it’s well made.

It’s a sorry state of affairs all around. Wouldn’t it be cool if retail, fashion and newspaper executives all put their noggins together and figured out a really smart way to improve their businesses–and benefit their customers/readers at the same time?

7 Responses to “The fantasy world of fashion”

  1. Geri says:

    Bravo Claire and Toby,

    I covered the retail industry — fashion and home furnishings for Fairchild Publications (WWD, etc)–for many years. Department store retailers in the 70s and 80s were creative, passionate, smart, service oriented. When Wal-mart was born, they all panicked. They’re been in panic mode ever since.

    Geri

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    • susan grant says:

      There is NO competition or commanality between Bergdorf’s and Wallmart. They’re different species; BG might worry about what Barneys is doing, but couldn’t care less about the Wallmarts of the world.

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      • Geri says:

        Hi Susan,

        I wasn’t suggesting that Bergdorf’s worries about Wal-mart, but that the birth of Wal-Mart changed the face of retailing overall.

        G.

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  2. ClaireOKC says:

    It would indeed, but there seems to be something awry in this business…clothes are produced at ridiculously low costs (in China or Bangledesh or someplace like that), and are made to last for a few years. We are conditioned to think that this is acceptable clothing. In your other post about “Then and Now“….I think back to some great clothes I bought in the 60’s and 70’s and how well made they were – even if it was polyester (bleack!!!) But polyester was hot then, and workmanship was excellent, and the price wasn’t bad, but then we didn’t seem to need a new outfit every time we went out the door. I remember buying one new item, a dress or a jacket, to update your wardrobe, not a whole new wardrobe.

    I like Bergdorf’s and sorry they’re having a tough time and sorry that we can’t turn back the clock to have fewer clothes but better made that last longer, cause that’s the real bargain.

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    • susan grant says:

      As a long time BG shopper and someone who spends several hours/week there as part of my job as a merchandise manager for a jewelry showroom, I can unequivocally say that there are plenty of beautifully designed and very well made clothes in the store, which will not wear out in a couple of years unless abused. There are lines from France, Italy, Japan, etc. , of the finest fabrics and workmanship.

      Generally, the markup on clothing or jewelry by a given designer is very close among stores, as it is often determined by the designer.

      The jewelry department is unequalled anywhere in the city.

      There is a corporate disconnect between upper management and sales associates and clients and feedback is often not sought or welcomed, which seems to me to be arrogant and a waste of potentially valuable information. Although the store has been greatly updated over the last several years, there could be a big improvement in the way certain lines are bought.

      Regarding the layoff of some sales associates, I believe that unfortunately politics and not just numbers are sometimes involved.

      All in all, Bergdorf’s is a beautiful, elegant store offering excellent service and clients who appreciate that are coming back.

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      • Geri says:

        Hi Susan,

        I was addressing their colossal waste of money and the fact it impacts the price of clothes. The vendors pay for the catalog and then have to charge ridiculous prices. The clothes may be well made, they’re still ridiculously priced.

        Geri

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  3. Toby Wollin says:

    When are retail managers going to finally sit down with the folks on the floor and ask them what THEY think, what THEY feel the issues are. To dump your sales people during a period when everyone’s sales are in the toilet is stupid. Business and economic history shows that the companies that pulled back, did not market, did not innovate or come out with new products during the Great Depression did not come out of that period very well. Companies that did – did better than hold their own. And we won’t even discuss companies like Hewlett Packard that actually got their start during the Great Depression. Retailers have basically shown scorn for customers for years – as I have said several times before here – I have no sympathy for their whining now. In a world where the same factories in China are producing goods for luxury brands and PayLess Shoes, where brands cannot differentiate themselves (and rationalize the differential in price) based on quality or inputs, the only area where a retailer can differentiate themselves is on SERVICE. And service is created and performed by PEOPLE. Sending experienced sales and customer service people out the door when everyone’s sales are crummy is a guaranteed first class ticket to the retail boneyard, where they can commiserate with their friends such as Gimbels, Casual Corner Group, Carson Pierie Scott, and Strawbridge and Clothier.

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