It’s a tough time for retailers across the board, especially department stores. Earlier this month US giant Macy’s announced the forthcoming closure of 40 of its stores across the continent as a cost-cutting measure. But the retail behemoth has also launched new, major initiatives to attract younger customers and stay profitable and pertinent.

The store’s chief merchandising officer, Tim Baxter, who has worked there for 24 years, spoke to Sportswear International last week about these latest programs while on the red carpet of the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund dinner, where he was honored as Retailer of the Year. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

How is Macy’s attracting the new generation of customers and what are the challenges associated with doing that?
The millennial generation, the younger generation, is an extremely difficult group to attract, to be perfectly honest. They have grown up in a retail environment that is extraordinarily different than how I grew up and certainly very different from the traditional department store retail model. So over the past few years we have put in several different retail strategies to make Macy’s a more relevant place for the millennial consumer and we have consistently gained market share with that consumer through those strategies.
I think our omnichannel approach to the business is what gives us a very distinctive edge and that is why we have become a more and more compelling retailer for the millenials. Our website is the seventh largest website in America so the ability for all consumers, not just millennials, to browse online and buy in-store or buy online and pick up in-store or shop in-store or buy online later has changed the whole retail environment so much. So I don’t think of us as a department store anymore. I think of us really as an omnichannel retailer. We need to be wherever the consumer is and whenever they want us to be there.

Is any one channel in the omnichannel approach more important?
No, it’s not. People talk about the death of brick-and-mortar but brick-and-mortar is alive and well and is responsible for the vast majority of sales in the United States. Even with the trajectory of our online business brick-and-mortar is still and for a long time to come will represent the vast majority of those sales. So neither is more important because it’s equally important that a consumer be able to go online, browse, shop, comparative shop and learn. The most important is to have all the channels.

Macy’s employs an advisory group made up of millennials. What are some examples of how they have influenced change at the store?
One of the most critical things that this group did for us was help us really define lifestyles of millennials and think about customers and their lifestyles very differently. And now in the categories of business where we are specifically targeting millennials we actually filled our assortments based on the lifestyles that this group recommends. They influence us every day and we have added certain events that are more appealing to millennials than traditional events. And we are starting to add experiences to the store because millennials spend more of their disposable income on experiences than the categories of business that we’ve traditionally sold.

Many retailers today target either the luxury customer or the bargain-seeking one. Macy’s however, targets the people in between. What are the challenges of having the Everyman or Everywoman as your customer?
We have a strategy called My Macy’s where we try to localize our assortments in every store to the local consumer. In most places you have a very broad distribution obviously but My Macy’s helps us target local consumers. But in the broadest sense, I would say that we have a much broader appeal than many of our competitors because we can build assortments that are extremely value-driven and compelling with great fashion at a great price but we are also the number one seller of what I like to refer to as affordable luxury. So we do have a wide reach but today consumers are shopping more and more in each one of those different categories. This idea of high and low is becoming more and more prevalent: I am wearing a designer jacket with tights that I bought somewhere else. The customer is really evolving and we are evolving with them.