October, 2014 – This article from the Wall Street Journal discusses how Saks is adding a “wow factor” to their holiday marketing. (http://online.wsj.com/articles/saks-takes-on-the-neiman-marcus-christmas-book-with-its-own-luxury-gift-catalog-1414613374)

By Ray A. Smith


The holiday retail showdown between U.S. luxury department stores is heating up as Saks Fifth Avenue throws down the diamond-encrusted gauntlet.

Taking on Neiman Marcus’s famed Christmas Book of extravagant “fantasy” gifts, Saks is publishing its own hyperluxe gift guide, with merchandise ranging from a $935 Montblanc pen to a $1.35 million diamond ring. Its holiday plans range from new gift boxes with snowflake-decorated ribbons at all 39 Saks stores to more-elaborate window and store displays, to be unveiled next month with a multimedia production that includes a simultaneous eight-minute digital-projection show, light show, and live performance by the Rockettes.

Saks president Marigay McKee, nearly a year into her new job after leaving Harrods of London, says she told Saks’s new chief marketing officer, Mark Briggs, to “dream big” for the holidays.

“Because if we just do something normal, it gets lost in the blur of the gigantic size of the American retail landscape,” Ms. McKee said. “So we have to do things with a wow factor.”

The wow extends from the 71,000 computerized lights and a 30-foot-tall garland decorating the first two stories of Saks’s Manhattan flagship, to the $60,000 Chanel watch and $90,000 chinchilla-and-cashmere blanket featured in the new holiday gift guide. The catalog is set to be handed out or mailed starting this week to customers of Saks’s personal-shopper service, called the Fifth Avenue Club. It represents another step in Saks’s new direction under Ms. McKee to court luxury consumers by carrying more expensive, exclusive goods.

The high-end guide appears at the kickoff of an uncertain holiday season. A forecast released by Deloitte in late September predicted a rise in holiday sales of between 4% and 5% from November through January, with online sales expected to rise 13.5% to 14%.

Yet shoppers’ mood remains unpredictable given recent stock-market turmoil, Middle East concerns and Ebola fears. The American Affluence Research Center, based in Alpharetta, Ga., has dialed back its forecast of average spending on December holiday gifts by affluent consumers, defined as the wealthiest 10% of U.S. households who have a net worth of at least $800,000. Based on a survey conducted in September, the research center had been predicting 2014 holiday spending about the same as 2013—some $2,623 per household. But “given the decline in the stock market during October, I would now estimate a 2% decline in spending by the affluent,” says Ron Kurtz, president. He said he might raise the spending forecast again, depending on how well the market recovers.

Saks’s 16-page gift catalog is printed on lush, thick paper that Mr. Briggs, the executive, likened to the type used in luxury jewelry catalogs. It is an upgrade from the traditional Saks gift guide, with its mix of expensive and less expensive items. A traditional catalog, entitled “An Enchanted Experience,” is set to mail this week. More-affordable gifts also will be presented to customers visiting the Fifth Avenue Club by personal shoppers using iPads.

Luxury gift guides have long been Neiman Marcus territory. Neiman’s Christmas Book, first published in 1926 as a Christmas card for the store’s best customers, is known for its over-the-top gifts, which the retailer began promoting 54 years ago. The original aim was to drum up publicity and build Neiman’s reputation outside its home turf of Dallas, says spokeswoman Ginger Reeder.

As demand for gifts from the Christmas Book grew, so did demand for Neiman’s other mail-order books. “It’s a longtime cornerstone of our overall business,” Ms. Reeder says.

This year’s Neiman Marcus selections include His and Hers Vilebrequin Quadskis for $50,000 each and a Vanity Fair Academy Awards Experience for $425,000. “Obviously, what most people buy out of the Christmas Book are gift items such as cashmere sweaters or chocolate-chip cookie tins,” Ms. Reeder says.

Ms. McKee acknowledges that as Saks pushes further into luxury, “there’ll always be comparisons drawn.” She declines to comment on Neiman’s Christmas Book. “I think there’s room for all of us,” she says.

Ms. Reeder of Neiman Marcus declined to comment on Saks.

On the first floor of Saks’s Fifth Avenue flagship store in New York City, among the decorations customers will notice are a new crystal-beaded, Art Deco-style curtain between the elevator banks and “fantasy” ice women in the upper center circle. Three sides of the store will be “completely encased in magnolia with thousands of twinkling LED lights,” Mr. Briggs said.

The six center windows facing Fifth Avenue will display animated scenes with fairy-tale characters like Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty, depicted in the Art Deco style of artist and designer Erté. The store will host an unveiling ceremony on Nov. 24, to be live-streamed on Saks’s website and on Twitter.