Saks' New Fashion Chief Is Inheriting A Strong Online Business

on September 17 2013 1:12 PM
  • Saks store Getty Image 2013
    A Saks store in San Francisco, Calif. Getty Images
  • RTXPFW0
    The outside of the Saks Fifth Avenue store is seen in New York, where Marigay McKee, until now in London at Harrods, will become the new president. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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Two years ago, Marigay McKee -- then the flaxen-haired fashion forerunner at Harrods – was only starting to grasp the importance of e-commerce to the storied London department store’s future.

“We are just beginning on a journey to develop a site that matches the experience in store,” the fashion executive said in a 2011 interview with the trade website Business of Fashion. “There is an intense interest and a significant investment in developing Harrods.com to add revenue and prestige to the site.”

Now, as McKee comes across the pond to serve as the new president of Saks Inc. (NYSE:SKS), she will inherit a thriving digital business with a deep-pocketed parent company eager to realize whatever vision she sets forth.

“The online business is Saks’ crown jewel,” Rick Snyder, a senior retail analyst at Maxim Group, told International Business Times in a phone interview.

Indeed, Saks is uniquely positioned to dominate in online retail.

Many department stores, including J.C. Penney Stores Inc. (NYSE:JCP) and Kohl’s Corporation (NYSE:KSS), have struggled to stack up business outside the walls of their brick-and-mortar stores.

Saks, with its stable of small luxury brands, isn’t competing with the likes of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) or even directly with manufacturers’ own websites.

“The rise of the Internet as a selling vehicle has increased the likelihood that mass distributed brands can go directly to the end consumer,” Snyder wrote in a July note on Saks. “Manufacturers of luxury brands are less likely to pursue this option, given that they are typically smaller companies and are less likely to invest the necessary capital.”

But Saks, which Snyder said makes for a strong physical and virtual showroom for luxury products, does have the cash to build up such a business.

Hudson’s Bay Co. (TSE:HBC) entered an agreement in late July to buy the New York-store chain for $2.9 billion with debt, and already plans to open seven new Saks Fifth Avenue stores in Canada.

“Saks presents a great opportunity as a world-class brand with new frontiers for development,” McKee said in a statement. “I’m excited for this unique challenge as we embark on this new chapter at the company.”

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