Saks turns to New York brick-and-mortar for fuel amid Amazon threat

The scene at Saks Fifth Avenue on Thursday afternoon. Promising opening weekend sales, clouds closed in on the Manhattan skyline — a fitting metaphor for brick-and-mortar, a backdrop for an effort to push back against Amazon and recapture top-tier brands.

Chester Freedman, executive vice president of Saks Fifth Avenue, said after the “heatwave,” he had seen lines snaking around the store entrances. Sales of shoes were up by double digits. The appetite for their lines had been sated.

“We need newness, and we need something different than you can buy online,” Mr. Freedman said. “We think we got it, and we’re competing now with the very best in the world, that Amazon is pulling in.

Saks has lured many top labels into its physical footprint. Mr. Freedman highlighted “weekend preppy” brands — such as Jonathon Adler, Bluestar Alliance and the Rag & Bone label — that Mr. Freedman himself has dressed for a variety of weddings. “These are not just a collection of ties,” he said.

Saks, long a force in men’s accessories, now offers full men’s fashion in its spaces. Mr. Freedman cited Ralph Lauren as an example of what he hoped other brands would be doing. “They are a great shopping destination,” he said, and “they have some of our best accounts” in designer women’s lines.

The Saks Fifth Avenue store next door at Columbus Circle, meanwhile, reported that shoppers were scooping up bags of Trader Joe’s goods. “It was as steady as we’ve ever seen it,” said Martine Reardon, senior vice president of marketing. “Everything was selling and we were thrilled.”

Ms. Reardon said Saks was doing well this year even with the late arrival of warmer weather. She noted that, as in recent years, construction had intensified at the end of the first quarter, so there was a period of uncertainty. “It’s something that really brings us to life and makes us more relevant,” she said.

The launch of a holiday window display at the women’s floor of Saks supported Ms. Reardon’s point. Billboards, which appeared like canvases, were painted with references to women’s right-to-know laws, which kick in in several states, and Donald Trump’s treatment of women. A more traditional pop art display showcased themes of women and relationships to power and privilege, including the exhibition of one artist, though it was more overtly about women’s right to care about these issues.

Nonetheless, the campaign and the window display were relevant. How will Saks compete?

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