In Dan Korn’s view, a high-fashion web site is different from a high-fashion department store in one key respect-the breadth of merchandise it carries. The executive vice president of Neiman Marcus Online told attendees at the eTail 2001 Conference that Neiman’s web site features “a carefully edited selection of merchandise, because when it comes to the web, more is not better. It’s easier navigation and content that matter.”
Korn said Neiman is continually researching which categories sell best online, listening and responding to what customers say about their web experience. “It’s a non-stop learning process, and if you think that process is ever completed, you are going to make a mistake,” Korn said. But if the key to the on-line merchandising strategy is product focus, said Korn, “we also never underestimate what might sell on line.” To the store’s surprise, Neiman succeeded in selling a $30,000 piece of jewelry on the web.
But Korn made it clear that the secret to profitability on the web for a retailer is to leverage the chain’s merchandising assets, not to recreate them. It means relying on the same brands and buying relationships, the same back-end data systems, and the same fulfillment and distribution operations. “It helps me sleep at night knowing that we (the web operation) have a warehouse that we’ve been using to fulfill and ship catalog orders for 20 years,” said Korn.
Neiman-Marcus, he noted, also tries to achieve on the web the type of personalized customer service that its department stores are known for. “That has to be top of mind,” he argued, “because on the Internet you do not have that person-to-person contact.” To replicate it on the web, Neiman Marcus created as 24-by-7 “E-Care Group,” which provides personal responses to all e-mails and conducts on-line chat sessions. An experienced group of store-based personal shoppers were also assigned to the web site and provided with a specialized chat software to communicate with web visitors. For instance, Korn explained, “If the web customer is looking for something that is not on the site but that we have in a store or our catalog, these shoppers will go to any length to find what the customer is looking for.”