The Neiman Marcus Group is in recovery mode and prepared “to invest and to create new initiatives that really solidify our place in the industry.”

So said Bob Kupbens, the company’s executive vice president, chief product and technology officer, at the Fairchild Media Group Tech Forum, in a discussion on initiatives and challenges at NMG.

“We actually feel like this is our time,” said Kupbens. “We learned a lot of hard lessons, but we are coming out of this pandemic stronger, more focused as a team and really excited about the future. We are not about transactions. We are not a mass retailer. We are in a relationship business.”

To further those relationships, before the pandemic, the Dallas-based luxury retailer rolled out Connect, a digital tool for associates to personalize their communications with customers and communicate the way customers want, through either email, phone calls, or texting. Associates can also send photos depicting items and outfits and set up in-person appointments all through the Connect clienteling tool. With Connect, “As the pandemic began we were in this excellent position. We actually accelerated our rollout timetable. All the work [between associates and customers] that would have been done in-store, we were actually able to pick it up and move into remote clienteling, remote selling. Sales associates continued to deepen their relationships and provide great service. So much about Neiman Marcus is about an emotional connection and a long-term relationship.”

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There still remains “this huge opportunity to engage our customers in a really different way,” Kupbens said. “We don’t have to be like others. We don’t have to be about performance marketing, traffic, or conversion. We can be about relationships and building those emotional connections with customers.”

Further helping NMG manage was the fact that the Bergdorf Goodman e-commerce website “did a really significant refresh before the pandemic, and an incredible job of pulling their customers through that period,” said Kupbens.

“Now as people are coming back to stores, we are starting to see strong recovery in traffic and sales. But our vision is less about individual transactions, and individual spaces and individual channels. It’s really about the connected end-to-end experience that spans physical and digital channels.

“We can create new experiences that allow people to naturally move from physical to digital, to different services, different opportunities. Those kinds of journeys are going to be very difficult to replicate, but it’s the kind of thing we have envisioned happening at only Neiman Marcus.”

With technologies, “We don’t have to be the cutting edge of everything…So when we think of places where we should be cutting edge, it’s about personalization, truly knowing our customers and acting on that. We’ve got some great wins around data science, and [product] recommendations and deepening those. We will invest in being cutting edge, not in a gimmicky way, but in a way that truly creates value for us. That’s an important differentiation.”

Kupbens acknowledged that “there are a ton of great technologies” out there to chose from. “AR and VR are certainly things people think about with fit, try on…We will continue to evaluate lots of different technologies and find ways to plug them in,”  but they must be to support the shopping experience and foster relationships, he stressed.

Kupbens said that omnichannel luxury is “very challenging to execute — and it doesn’t just happen because you got people moving online. “

Nevertheless, he said NMG has “proven we can build deep relationships. We have proven we can understand our customer. But truly allowing her to navigate seamlessly between channels is a design opportunity, a technology opportunity. It’s the way we think about luxury for the future, but it doesn’t happen by accident.

“We think about ourselves as the only multibrand, true omnichannel luxury retailer. It’s like someone just won retail bingo right there, because that’s a lot of buzzwords. But we think that’s the best way to create deep emotional connections with our customers.”

Months ago, NMG revealed plans to spend $85 million to upgrade its supply chain and modernize physical facilities, systems and technologies. “At the core, it’s way more about customer experience,” said Kupbens. “It’s things like faster shipping options, new capabilities, providing insight into inventory availability, reliable delivery estimates. It’s ultimately a key part of providing key services. You will see new facilities, really complicated material handling, a whole modernization of our order processes. But the objective of all of that is incredible customer experience, enabled by the capabilities of these new systems.

“Innovation and change are possible at scale and possible at large companies, but we have to have consistent investment, a consistent drumbeat of proof points of our strategy. We are in a really great position to lean into so many strengths we have and define what is true omnichannel luxury,” he said.

In mid-June, NMG revealed its acquisition of Stylyze, a machine learning SaaS platform for advancing personalization, which has been integrated into NMG’s Connect clienteling tool. NMG also disclosed that it intends to spend more than $500 million over the next three years in technology and digital capabilities and partnering with more than 25 “key” technologies such as search and browse, product recommendations, financing, order tracking and returns, promotions, loyalty and ratings and reviews.

“We worked with the Stylyze team for three years,” said Kupbens. “It’s become a core capability. It has the secret sauce that uses data science and machine learning to tag content, assemble looks that our customers are interested in shopping. We see the opportunity to use this more and more. It’s the data tagged onto the items, the looks themselves that can be placed in different digital experiences. There’s a ton of utility. In some ways, Styyuze was purposely built for Neiman Marcus because of the close partnership. We just see sales conversion increase when the customer sees an item in the context of a look, rather than just sending out individual product recommendations.” Equally important, Kupbens added, is the opportunity to bring the Stylyze team on board at NMG.

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