Saks Fifth Avenue is turning to iMessage to bolster sales

Though department stores are struggling to overcome slumping sales amid slowed foot traffic and shuttering storefronts, Saks Fifth Avenue is taking advantage of last quarter’s period of stabilization to invest in digital.

The luxury department store quietly launched an update to its iOS app last week, incorporating a new integrated messaging functionality that allows shoppers to ask questions about products via iMessage and make purchases directly. The program also permits shoppers to inquire about new arrivals and bestsellers, as well as be privy to images of these items within the messaging screen. The effort is part of a larger attempt by Saks Fifth Avenue, and parent company Hudson Bay, to personalize services and customize the consumer experience, strategies department stores are increasingly realizing are crucial as they attempt to rebuild.

Images courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue

The messaging program essentially aims to provide an in-store experience through the form of a text conversation. While other brands have launched similar chat capabilities, these have primarily taken the form of flash-in-the-pan campaigns or automated messenger bots on Facebook, WeChat and Kik created around a singular program. For example, brands like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger created Facebook messenger bots to promote new collections around fashion week presentations, while H&M launched an “Emotikenzo” emoji keyboard last fall on iMessage exclusively to help promote the brand’s Kenzo collection last fall.

The Saks effort intends to hold more longevity than these more fleeting programs, in regard to driving sales. Unlike Coach, which ditched its iOS app completely when it launched its iMessage chat functionality last fall, Saks’s messaging system will act as an extension to its mobile app, which was first launched in 2012 and relaunched last year. While Coach’s program includes it own “Coachmoji” keyboard, chock full of stickers of products from recent collections, Saks is hoping the iMessage integration will act like less of a whimsical marketing ploy, and more as an alternative store that translates to sales.

Of the major department stores, Saks has fared comparatively better than peers like Macy’s — while Saks’s comparable sales for the first quarter of 2017 fell by 2.9 percent, Macy’s dropped 38 percent in the same quarter. Hudson Bay, which also owns Lord & Taylor, was also in talks to potentially purchase competitor Neiman Marcus earlier this year in a deal that allegedly would have spared Hudson the $5 billion debt held by Neiman Marcus. Recent reports said this has stalled as a result of a pending lawsuit against Neiman Marcus claiming it illegally moved select store locations to avoid creditors in the case of bankruptcy.

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