Neiman Marcus Group announced on Monday the return of Ed Burstell as senior vice president of Product Innovation, a newly created role, effective Jan. 9, according to a company press release emailed to Retail Dive.
Burstell most recently was managing director of Retail at Liberty of London, where he’d worked since 2008. He will report directly to President and Chief Merchandising Officer Jim Gold.
Early in his career, Burstell worked at Neiman Marcus’ Westchester, NY store and went on to hold merchandising and executive-level leadership positions at Bloomingdales and Henri Bendel. Well before that, he was a perfume spritzer at Macy’s, according to his autobiography. He returned to Neiman Marcus Group in 2004 as Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Non-Apparel, until he left for Liberty of London.
As Neiman Marcus works to inject new life into product innovation and differentiation, a key strategic focus in the company's turnaround, it's turning to someone who started at the store level to learn retail fundamentals.
Burstell proved himself at Liberty of London, too. Liberty chairman of the Marco Capello called Burstell’s vision "unique and inimitable," according to a Women’s Wear Daily report from a year ago, when Burstell’s plans to return to Neiman Marcus were first announced. Capello credited Burstell with bringing "global recognition" to Liberty of London and "[redefining] the brand as an aspirational force in retail."
Neiman Marcus no doubt hopes Burstell will drive similar change there. In his newly created role, Burstell will lead a "freshly established merchandising team" to develop product exclusivity and fashion trend authority, the company said.
Burstell will arrive at the beginning of a key rebuilding year for the department store. Neiman Marcus managed to narrow its losses in its last quarter, with certain categories gaining traction, but the results reflect the retailer’s 10th straight quarter of declines. The company in October reported total fourth quarter revenues of $1.12 billion, reflecting a 0.5% decline in same-store revenues from the year-ago quarter. That's a net loss in the quarter of $366.3 million, compared to its $407.3 million loss the prior year. E-commerce sales were $363 million in the period, with same-store digital sales rising 9.1%.
The retailer has scaled back its presence at the Hudson Yards development on the West Side of Manhattan by 10% of what the company had originally projected, executives also confirmed in October. And the retailer continues to trim its off-price portfolio — one of the best performing areas of retail — and will shutter another 10 stores. That may reflect a move to underpin its reputation as a luxury department store, and a newly announced digital focus, which Neiman is calling "Digital First," could help that a lot, according to Chris Paradysz, CEO of PMX Agency.
"Digital First" aims to further the retailer's position in the luxury retail space "by anticipating customers' evolving behaviors and engaging them more deeply to drive traffic online and in stores, the company said in October.
"In today’s luxury market, those who are thriving are those that are connecting the social and online experience with the lifestyle experience of the brand," Paradysz told Retail Dive in an email. "Digital is really an accelerator for luxury, but sometimes the ability to shift to digital has been a bit more stifled in this industry than others."
Higher end retailers are often reluctant to risk the close relationship they’ve been able to establish with customers in their luxe physical spaces, he said. "It comes down to the fear of losing the cachet," he said. "But when a brand carries over the intimate relationship, and the emotion over to the digital world, there’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s a game changer."