Retail Confessions: Saks Fifth Avenue
Two former Saks employees talk about who buys all the clothes.
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After I wondered who buys all the clothes hanging in empty retail stores like Saks, which I recently visited in New York City, people who had worked there or other retail establishments reached out to share some thoughts on the empty store. Today, I’m beginning a series of Retail Confessions, featuring interviews with people who have worked in the retail industry. Do you want to talk to me for future installments? Reach out by replying to this email or send me a DM. Interviewees will be kept anonymous.
I find these chats particularly fascinating at a time when fashion is undergoing a seismic shift, owing to the pandemic and the ways it has profoundly and permanently changed our lives, including how we dress and shop — but also owing to Gen Z, the climate crisis, and a distrust of capitalism. Even as the fashion shows continue in Europe for the spring 2022 season, the Next Phase of fashion feels intangible and unmoored. But I was struck while conducting the below interviews (both edited and condensed) by how mismatched with today the old ways seem.
Today’s first installment of Retail Confessions features two pre-pandemic employees of Saks Fifth Avenue.
Interview #1: The Former Marketing Department Employee
The first interview subject worked for two different Saks stores in two different southern states in the mid-2010s.
Is it unusual for a Saks to be so empty?
When I worked in Florida, the store was always empty. I was like, How is this store ever making money? The reason why that particular store was empty is because the people who shop there have so much money that they have a personal shopper and they don't really step foot in the store. The person shops for them, their credit card's on file, and then hand delivers all of the merchandise to their home. One transaction can be $30,000 to $50,000. And they never set foot in the store. But your point about the waste. Oh my gosh. Could I speak to that?
Yes, please do.
Shipments in the old retail kind of format were what, six times a year? You know, four seasons plus the old kind of cruise/vacation in the winter. And then I think there was one other that was considered holiday. That changed to 52 seasons a year — 52 weeks a year there's merchandise coming into a store. That pretty much changed when companies like Zara and H&M came around, most likely within the last 10 to 15 years. So there's just like this obscene amount of inventory coming in all the time to stores and when they don't sell it and they have new inventory coming in, they have to turn it out. The poor people in the inventory control area, they just could not keep up. They were practically working around the clock.
You mean as part of the intake process or to get rid of things that didn't sell?
What happened with the stuff that didn’t sell?
An organization like Saks for instance has a certain level of luxury brand, i.e. Manolo [Blahnik] and things on that level. They were not interested in that merchandise going anywhere but in the garbage.
A lot of brands destroy things so people can’t do that. Were they slashing or were they just tossing?
Sometimes they would slash it, but it oftentimes they just tossed it.
Were they throwing stuff out daily?
Is it possibly to quantify it? A dumpster’s worth? Two dumpsters’ worth?
I'm going to say it was definitely one to two full dumpsters a day. It was an atrocity to see expensive items being just tossed out. And I always wanted to bring them to a homeless shelter or Dress for Success. That was just absolutely wholly dismissed because there was no way a luxury brand was going to allow that to happen unless they decided to do it on their own terms.
[Author’s note: I emailed the Saks PR department Friday morning for comment on trashing merchandise but have not received a response.]
That’s really sad. What else do you remember about the clientele?
The clientele down in Florida, in the shoe department, they would determine they wanted to buy, say, 10 pairs of shoes. And then they immediately wanted a “fresh box.” So they wouldn't even take the shoes that they actually tried on. It was constant.
So they would try on the shoes and they wanted to bring a fresh pair home that hadn't been on their feet?
Right. It was so common that if the shoe went back into the stock room and somebody else came in and wanted to try it on and they saw that it had been in a previously opened box, they wouldn't even try it on.