The Luxury Store Has No Clothes

Today’s “quirky” front-page story in the New York Times - there’s always one - is a Styles section type piece, perhaps worthy of the Business section, with the headline, “Luxury Stores Trim Inventory and Discounts.” But the story gets a lot more interesting inside the jump, thanks to an unfortunately placed Saks Fifth Avenue ad.

As the Times reports, luxury retailers slashed prices in order to move merchandise in last year’s tough market but that upset the fancy fashion designers whose names were on the labels. This year, recession-squeezed luxury stores are using a new strategy to get holiday shoppers to buy things they don’t need — carry less of them! The logic goes that deliberately running low on merchandise creates a shopping frenzy that allows retailers to keep items at full price - and sell out - maintaining that luxurious whiff of exclusivity without the icky scent of sales, discounts, or worse - clearance. The Times writes:

Saks, the chic Manhattan department store, is a prime example. Its inventory is down by double digits compared with last year. That is partly a response to lower demand, of course, but it is also a business strategy aimed at weaning consumers from deep discounts. By carrying fewer goods and selling them at full price, Saks is essentially telling customers: buy it now or live without it.

Saks, we’re told, is all sold out of this season’s $2,520 Marni shearling vest. All but one of the 21 cashmere and fox fur-collared Brunello Cucinelli jackets ($2,695) that Saks ordered are gone. And there’s only one $5,295 Brioni leather bomber jacket left, as well as just one pair of $1,995 over-the-knee Christian Louboutin boots - in a size 11. None of them have gone on sale and they’re not going to any time soon.

Which is why, when you flip to the jump page on A4, the juxtaposition of the headline, “Luxury Stores Trim Inventory Along with Discounts”, with a full-page Saks Fifth Avenue ad on the facing page is just a tad ironic.

“30% to 50% off a selection of furs now through Tuesday, Dec. 1,” the ad trumpets. And not only that - they’re practically allowing shoppers to finance their fur coat purchases with the retail equivalent of a NINJA loan, “Enjoy no interest and no payments for 12 months when you spend $2,000 or more on a major purchase account, all on one day.”

How is Saks supposed to re-train its customers with a mixed message like that? Apparently the cognitive dissonance wasn’t too much for Saks customers to grapple with though; I checked with a friendly customer service agent at Saks named Lydia G. - those size 11 Christian Louboutin boots were sold - they’re now only available online.

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Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.