In a way Neiman Marcus is a link with the not-so-distant past when service and quality matter, an era when people spent more thoughtfully, perhaps, and a time when shopping was more a careful transaction than merely a form of recreation.
A common slang for Neiman Marcus is “Needless Markups,” but I don’t know if that is entirely fair. If you want the Ermenegildo suit, well, you’ll pay a lot more for it than you will for a suit at discount chain. You will get a different suit, too. As long as that high-end market survives, it seems that the the price is not “needless.”
Getting more for less — and even less for less — matters above all else today. Certainly one can debate how a $400 shirt is truly more valuable than a shirt costing $100 and one can see in Neiman Marcus a confirmation of an existing and growing divide between haves and have-nots, but the sort of value I lament losing isn’t measured by price alone.
Losing the luxury retailer and its market isn’t quite as important as something more fundamental about the way we measure quality and value. It isn’t a matter of product alone.
Once upon a time department stores were about service, with the occasional Ohrbach’s out there. Neiman Marcus is one of the few places remaining were you can find the sort of dignified service once taken for granted at most department stores.
I am far from the target demographic Neiman Marcus values most, but I shop there and I even buy something once in a while. I invest in solid buys and do so when items go on sale. But even though I am not spending tens of thousands of dollars, I am treated with respectful and thoroughly attentive service. People remember my name.
You can measure the decline of civilized shopping by following the devolution of stores like Dayton’s in Minneapolis. Dayton’s — now Macy’s — once offered service you find rarely today. In fact now that Dayton’s is Macy’s, well…it is a mess. Not long ago while looking for a gift I asked a saleswoman for directions. She rolled her eyes and let me know that she worked for a boutique line of clothing, not Macy’s. She advised that I find an employee. Good luck finding an employee in a stripped down retail environment. That’s Macy’s.
That would never happen at the old Dayton’s and it certainly does not happen at Neiman Marcus today.
Overall we live more and more in a society of needless consumption. Rather than spend $400 on a special shirt that they will care for and keep, people are more likely to spend $400 every weekend on a cheap clothes they might not wear more than once or twice. Being able to walk out of the mall laden with shopping bags seems to show more “value” than occasionally investing in a needed quality product. In this case, more is more and getting more for less is key.
I don’t like that.
That sort of quick and random consumption doesn’t require much service. If a shirt that costs $14 isn’t quite right, you haven’t lost much in the transaction. Sadly, I think our expectations in service have fallen to our expectations of quality. The coarsening of our social interactions don’t demand much in the way of refinement. If employing one less salesman means you can save a buck or two, that’s good.
Large, empty retail is pushing aside the more personal and attentive ways of shopping that once was taken for granted. For my part, that is not good. I will miss the civility of Neiman Marcus, but I worry more about losing yet another reminder of what were once more sophisticated days for everyone, whether you shopped at Neiman Marcus or J. C. Pennys.