A year ago, the fifth floor of the flagship Lord & Taylor store in Manhattan hosted “modern sportswear” brands like Calvin Klein and Karl Lagerfeld. Today those brands have moved elsewhere in the store to make room for 30,000 square feet of dresses.
Lord & Taylor unveiled the transformation on March 23, calling it the Dress Address, and launched an aggressive marketing campaign on subway platforms and billboards across the city. In short: The Hudson Bay-owned retailer wants to be your first and only stop for dress shopping.
The new dress floor puts customer service first, according to Lord & Taylor fashion director Stephanie Solomon. “Say you’re looking for a dress — it should be as memorable as the party you attended,” Solomon said. “Have a glass of champagne, talk to a sales associate who really loves you and cares about you and tells you the truth, and [be in] an environment that makes you feel comfortable, not intimidated.”
But Lord & Taylor has done a bit more than fill a floor full of dresses and hint at some bubbly. Beyond restored early 20th century columns and trendy lighting fixtures, there is the Gallery, with its velvet couches and a Sarabeth’s restaurant beside a wall of jacquard Marchesa dresses. Luxe.
Nearby, the space reserved for fitting rooms feels more like a French salon than a department store changing area, and it is outfitted with modern touches like selfie-stick holders, call buttons, and illuminated mirrors to appeal to young buyers. You can rent out that space and have Sarabeth’s cater there for, say, a bridal party. Much like the services offered at luxury department stores, complimentary alterations are available as well.
Lord & Taylor is attempting to accommodate shoppers across price ranges (there are couture dresses on one end of the floor and dresses $100 or less on the other), but there is less of an initiative to cater to plus-size shoppers on the dress floor. (There is a designated plus-size section elsewhere in the flagship location.)
The unveiling of the Fifth Avenue store transformation is only the first across Lord & Taylor locations, Solomon said, though she declined to provide details or a timeline. The crux of it all: Get shoppers back in stores.
The retailer’s revamp is part of a series of ongoing attempts to resist the retail death march that has plagued its competitors, attributable to a few main causes. Among them, there’s a retail real estate glut, costly and unable to compete with spunky online upstarts. For its part, Lord & Taylor has largely avoided that (it has only 50 locations worldwide, compared with more than 800 Macy’s locations), but what it does struggle with is in-store experience.
“It’s becoming more and more about the experience — whether it’s going to a festival or sharing a car ride or going to a new city,” Richard E. Jaffe, a retailing analyst at investment firm Stifel Nicolaus, told the New York Times. “The religion of consumption has proven to be unfulfilling. The ‘pile it high and watch it fly’ mentality at department stores no longer works.”
To be sure, this is only one of several strategies Lord & Taylor is putting to work to drum up excitement. In November, it attempted to launch a fast fashion initiative with H Halston to compete with stores like H&M and Zara, two retailers that have successfully transformed the marathon merchandising cycle into all-out sprints, and in doing so eat up shares of sales in the overall retail market. More recently, Lord & Taylor announced it would launch a “shop within a shop” for an in-store bridal dress concept with startup Brideside.
For all the money spent to revamp Lord & Taylor, the question remains: Will it get shoppers in stores, and then convert those visits to sales? It might, but the retailer’s got some convincing to do. Who knew fitting rooms outfitted with selfie-stick holders was the answer?
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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.