The Neiman Marcus Group, buoyed by affluent women shopping for designer styles, continues to show sales gains but the margins are shrinking.
For the last holiday season — November through January — NMG’s comparable sales were up 3 percent versus the 2021 holiday season, and were up 11 percent versus the pre-pandemic 2019 period.
Last holiday, “Sales with our loyal customers were up 8 percent, which shows there is a luxury customer that continues to buy and remains very engaged with us,” Geoffroy van Raemdonck, NMG’s chief executive officer, told WWD in an interview Wednesday. “There is a customer out there who wants to spend more than last year.”
Van Raemdonck noted that the low-single gains during NMG’s fiscal second quarter, which ended Jan. 28, came on top of a “really strong” 2021 holiday season.
“It feels good that we continue to grow and are maintaining gains compared to pre-COVID[-19].”
Along with women’s designer ready-to-wear, NMG saw continued strength in shoes, handbags and men’s, “all of which saw positive comps but are normalizing compared to the outsized growth seen in the immediate post-pandemic return to work and socializing,” van Raemdonck said.
Where NMG saw less strength during the holiday season was with customers not “engaged” as much with Neiman’s and its sales associates, buying more products considered entry price points at the retailer and buying more logo-ed driven. “Those are mostly online customers,” van Raemdonck observed.
Like many other retailers, NMG is grappling with excess inventories and a very promotional retail landscape. “Our business began to normalize last summer from the post-COVID[-19] spike in demand seen last spring; the trend further decelerated beginning in the second half of October, while stabilizing over the holiday period,” van Raemdonck told WWD. “We have been prudently managing expenses for several months and we are working diligently to right-size the remainder of our inventory ownership to meet expectations for future demand.”
Van Raemdonck added that the company is buying cautiously for the back half of the year and “focusing on a narrow set of brands that resonate best with our customers. We’re going deeper into those” with the buy.
Last month, NMG laid off hundreds of workers, representing just under 5 percent of its workforce. The cutbacks included 100 workers at NMG corporate, and followed layoffs previously announced at Saks.com, Saks Off 5th, Kohl’s Corp., TheBay.com, and Amazon. NMG employs approximately 10,000 workers, meaning that hundreds of workers would be affected. At the time, van Raemdonck told WWD the cutbacks were a result of the “volatile” economic climate, a deceleration of business since the summer, and decisions on how to best focus resources on the highest value customers.
Regarding Bergdorf Goodman’s performance for holiday, the business saw continued growth online, and captured more shoppers, van Raemdonck said. BG is re-platforming its website and app with Farfetch. A year ago, Farfetch made a $200 million minority investment in the Neiman Marcus Group. The plan involves using Farfetch’s technology to update and expand BG’s global reach.
Van Raemdonck cited “outsized” growth at BG online. He said that working with Farfetch, BG’s online re-platforming will happen in the second half of this calendar year.
Regarding BG’s brick-and-mortar store, he said, “We don’t single out channels. The store is doing well.”
Since NMG is privately held by Davidson Kempner Capital Management, Sixth Street Partners and Pacific Investment Management Co., the retailer selectively releases only some of its financial results to the media. Eventually, the owners will want to cash in on their investment, possibly through a public offering of NMG or a sale to another retailer, or to private equity.
“We were profitable in the last quarter so there is no issue of profitability but we did see a more promotional environment,” van Raemdonck said. “Our full-price selling, as a percentage of the total, was up. But the depth of our markdowns was deeper, linked to the fact there was increased promotional activity. That is going to continue into the spring.
“The focus is continuing to maintain gains compared to 2019,” van Raemdonck said. “Right now we saw business staying pretty stable from the second half of October through the end of January.” NMG’s second fiscal quarter ended Jan. 28.
“It’s a moment of volatility,” acknowledged van Raemdonck, when asked for his outlook on business going forward. “I don’t have a crystal ball. We are being very proactive in taking actions, doubling down on our strategy. It’s not changing.”
NMG operates 36 Neiman’s luxury department stores and two Bergdorf Goodman luxury stores, as well as e-commerce for both retail brands, and five Last Call stores for liquidating merchandise.
Among the highlights of last quarter:
- In March, celebrating in Paris the launch of the annual Neiman Marcus Awards, which this year honored Brunello Cucinelli, Jonathan Anderson of Loewe and footwear and accessories designer Amina Muaddi. Neiman’s plans to invest heavily in the merchandising and marketing of the three designer labels starting with Cucinelli’s Icon collection launching next month.
- Hosting more than 550 events through the holiday season.
- Launching a “ski getaway” assortment, representing an important category expansion with 80 brands, 760 styles and several store activiations.
- Expanding Neiman’s “retail-tainment” strategy of experiences and exclusive appearances this spring at stores with Stella McCartney, Donatella Versace, Christian Louboutin, Brunello Cucinelli, Adam Lippes and Bach Mai.
- Bergdorf Goodman personal shopping appointments increased double digits in November and December 2022 following the renovation and relaunch of the personal shopping area in the fall.