Saks Fifth Avenue to offer “high touch” experience

The retailer will make its Canadian debut Feb. 18 in Toronto

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TORONTO – When Saks Fifth Avenue arrives in Canada early next year, the luxury retailer plans to get to know your every taste.

From pinning down clothing size to shopping preferences — even what you’ve bought previously at its U.S. stores — the company wants to have it all tucked away to better serve clients.

It’s part of what company president Marc Metrick calls the “high touch” experience, a growing trend in the retail industry where white-glove personalization isn’t just an option, it’s often an expectation.

“The consumer is beginning to move towards experiential spending,” Metrick said Tuesday in an interview.

“The role of the department store is going to change.”

As more shoppers turn to e-commerce websites for luxury goods, Saks is hoping to shift the tide by offering reasons to come back into its stores.

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Part of that means taking the personal touch that has existed in luxury retail for years and improving on the concept.

“If you’re not empowering yourself with information, you’re making the shopping experience clunkier for the consumer than they’re getting at home or on their mobile device.”

All of this comes with the higher price of luxury brand-name goods, and depending on how much you want to pay, the experience can become even more exclusive.

At the in-store Fifth Avenue Club, the “high-touch” experience will extend to giving customers their own space to try on clothes in a more private environment, helped by a personal stylist.

Metrick expects that 2016 will signal the starting point for a new era of luxury shopping in Canada.

Saks is just one of several retailers betting that Canadians are ready to spend more for higher quality and reputable brands.

Nordstrom has been slowly opening its mid-level luxury department stores in Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary, with plans for another store in Toronto next year.

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Add to that both expansions and new stores from Holt Renfrew and luxury menswear retailer Harry Rosen, and a rollout from Quebec-based retailer Simons to make the mix even more crowded.

Metrick is confident there’s enough room for many competitors.

“The luxury consumer base is underserved,” he said.

Saks will make its Canadian debut Feb. 18 with the opening of its flagship store at Queen and Yonge, part of Toronto’s high-traffic tourism area.

Another Toronto location will open at Sherway Gardens a week later on Feb. 25. And Saks has said there is room for another five to seven locations in other key urban centres across the country.

Metrick said he wants to reverse the declining role of luxury retail in Canada.

One barometer he’s set begins in a social scenario — in this case a party — where a woman is complimented on her dress choice, and she responds by crediting the luxury designer who made it, rather than the store where she bought it.

“Twenty-five years ago … she’d say ‘Thank you, I bought it at Saks,’” he said, noting that today crediting the department store’s role is rarely ever heard.

“That’s when I’ll know I’m successful — when Saks is the answer” again, he said.

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