Neiman Marcus CEO talks future of industry, adapting to technology at Mays Business School

Neiman Marcus CEO talks future of industry, adapting to technology at Mays Business School

The CEO and president of Neiman Marcus Inc. spoke before an auditorium full of students at Texas A on Wednesday morning about technology’s role in revolutionizing the shopping experience as part of a series at the Mays Business School at Texas A University.

Karen Katz took over as the chief executive at Neiman Marcus in 2010. She began her career in the company as an assistant buyer and is known for continuing to evolve the high-end retail store’s brand.

She appeared before students at Ray Auditorium in the Mays Business School to be honored as part of the 2014 M.C. Zale Lecture Series, which is hosted annually by the Center for Retailing Studies. The series is meant to allow students the chance to hear from a leading CEO in retailing on topics such as risk-taking and brand building.

The top 16 students at Mays, the Zale Scholars, held a roundtable discussion with Katz before the lecture, said Kelli Hollinger, the director at the Center for Retailing Studies.

“Karen’s career path is what our students aspire to achieve,” Hollinger said. “I hope in 20 years that one of the top retail students Karen speaks to on April 2 will deliver this same lecture series and be honored as a visionary merchant.”

The moderator, Venky Shankar, the director of research at the center, asked Katz questions on shopping in the digital age and what changes the retail outlet made during tough economic times.

Katz said the company had dramatically underinvested in technology when she became an executive. She led the retail store to become one of the first to embrace the digital age — in fact, it was the first to purchase iPhones for their employees, she said.

“We knew our customers were thinking about their shopping journey very differently,” Katz said. “She is currently thinking about how she’s using her mobile phone, her tablet and using that all together.” Neiman Marcus purchased 5,000 iPhones to give to sales associates who would communicate directly with their customers through text or email.

“It’s now about how we transform the shopping experience in the stores and bring it to our customers, wherever they may shop,” she said. “In a very short amount of time, we moved from a communication tool to a tool that allowed our sales associate to bring the shopping experience to the customer.”

Neiman Marcus began pushing new tools such as a virtual closet online, which allowed sales associates to prepare a fitting room with items before the customer had set foot in the store. In a few months, Katz said, the store plans to launch an application that will allow shoppers to scan an item such as a purse and receive information on the brand.

While their customers have become more tech-savvy, Katz said they also have adapted monetarily since the 2008 recession. While they will still purchase a $3,000 handbag, her customers don’t shop with “reckless abandonment” anymore, she said.

Katz encouraged the students to not be afraid to take risks in her business. She said the world, especially the technological world, is moving too fast, and those who don’t take chances will quickly fall behind.

“At the end of the day, we’re in this fantastic position, because we’ve got these big billboards around the country for our Neiman Marcus stores, we’ve got this billion-dollar plus eCommerce business, and together, along with how we present our brand in social media, we believe we’re in a really winning position,” she said. “I think those retailers that can bring all that together, they’re going to be the ones that are going to be here 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”