Retail Therapy With Saks Fifth Avenue’s Mark Briggs

by Alexandra Ilyashov

Saks Fifth Avenue is undergoing a major facelift. Just this month, the luxury retailer announced a new look for its catalogs, new packaging design, and a personalized in-home shopping service. We caught up with newly installed CMO Mark Briggs, formerly of Harrods, to find out what’s in store, aside from 80 new brands. BY PAIGE REDDINGER

You’ve only been at Saks for eight months and the store has already undergone a major overhaul. What was your first priority?
Refining first impressions. There are much more elevated brands, and the merchant team has helped with the visual merchandising in the store to create more visible high points. In the New York store, for example, we added new lighting to the beauty department on the first floor and that has completely changed the shopping experience. Not just for the customer, but for the sales associate as well. You can see there is a much different energy.

What about the design of the shopping bags and boxes?
We looked at this wonderful heritage that Saks Fifth Avenue has and the amazing logo, which had had many iterations over the years. We wanted to keep the brand front and center on the bag. Not to say that what was done before wasn’t right, but I want to make sure that we make Saks Fifth Avenue prevalent on our bags, and we won’t be changing that. What we will be doing is adding little touches to it by changing the black and white grosgrain ribbon at different promotional times throughout the year.

The new catalogs are much more editorial. Is there a new team behind them?
We’re reenergizing and reworking with the existing team. With more than 80 new brands coming into the business, we needed to engage our audience in a much more high-profile way, and with that comes a more editorial approach. I want people to want this book on their coffee tables. I want them to feel they can relate back to the book, not just look at it once and then leave it.

What photographers and stylists are you using?
We work with the most famous editors and photographers in the industry. We work with fashion editors like Giovanna Battaglia, Kate Young, Katie Mossman, Jenny Capitain, and Lori Goldstein. We work with photographers like Yelena Yemchuk, Chris Colls, and Emma Summerton. That’s for our women’s catalog. For men’s, we work with fashion editors like Nick Sullivan, Michael Nash, and Tony Irvine, plus photographers Gavin Bond, Phil Poynter, and Greg Harris. They have brought these books to life.

How does the personalized shopping experience work for customers?
Appointments can be booked through the Saks Fifth Avenue Club. In delivering the personal shopping experience, from our wonderful new app, there’s no minimum spend required. It’s been about 12 days since we launched, and our customers who have tried the service found it absolutely amazing. We prepare the van prior to our arrival to your house, obviously trying to understand you as a shopper. In many cases, we understand our customers already, so we know what kind of designers our clients would like, but now we can go that extra mile by arriving with a personal shopper and delivering it to your house; a tailor would actually be there as well to fit and to change the outfits when required. We want to do everything for them in a seamless way, which gives our clients more time to do other things in their life.

Does this service apply to all stores?
Not at the moment. We launched in New York City, and then basically the service extends to the tri-state area. We will be rolling out the program in Beverly Hills and in Miami as the next two destinations. What we will do is watch those and see how they develop, and if we need to add more, I can assure you we will.

Will there be a base fee you have to pay for this service?
No fee at all.

Will there be any in-store rebranding?
Yes, for example, our lingerie departments have been upgraded from the perspective of visual newness of brands like Agent Provocateur, that are coming into the business. We branded that area around lingerie instead of calling it “Intimates.” It gives a much more feminine boutique/salon feel. If you look into the fall fashion book, you can see a very elegant lingerie shoot that evokes what you’re going to find in-store. Our vision is to have that complete 360 approach. So if you’re going to visit our brick and mortars, if you’re going online, or even if you’re using our personal shoppers, you are getting exactly the same kind of experience.

What can we expect from the windows at Saks?
Luckily Saks has always been renowned for its holiday windows and holiday unveiling. But all I can say is that we’re going to be transforming the store. I’ve been having meetings even before I started with the team about the holidays. It will be nothing short of spectacular and will give something back to the public.

What’s it like to change jobs after working at Harrods for most of your career?
Harrods is a historic retailer, and now I’ve been lucky enough to come to the only other brand I would have wanted to work for. Saks has an amazing heritage, and I love companies that have a heritage. There’s a lot of loyalty to this brand, not just with our customers but with our associates. We’ve been lucky enough to be handed the tenureship to move this brand forward and to put it back in its rightful place, and to, as we say, dust it off a little bit and put it in the forefront of the fashion world!

What was it like working in London and then moving to New York?
I would like to tell you it’s been difficult and I’m nervous or whatever, but I can assure you it hasn’t. From day one I felt that I really fit into the Saks team here. I feel like they’re my family already. I love living in New York. I’ve been here many times, and it’s great to live here now.

Have there been any learning curves?
The reality is that I’ve worked for a retailer with one major store. Okay, they had licensees across the world, but you know really it was just about coming from a one-store environment to a retailer with 39 stores and soon to be more, as we open up in Canada and Puerto Rico. Our new store opens in Sarasota in October. It’s about getting your head around the fact that whatever you decide to do has to work in the market, and you have to tailor those ideas to specific markets as well. You never stop learning.

Is Fashion Week keeping you busy?
I should be in a car right now going to Marc by Marc Jacobs!

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