The luxury shopping experience is already something magical in its own right but can be made so much sweeter by the privileges afforded by one’s chosen retailer. American department stores like Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks 5th Avenue, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdales all have their own ways of offering customers value, but which store is really the best?
(Please note: Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman are owned by the same holding group so they share many membership rewards.)
Best Rewards Program
Most stores’ loyalty programs are only available to those who hold either high-limit credit cards (like Amex Platinum and Centurion) or store-issued cards. Once you are registered with an eligible card, customers can ascend through various tiers of membership based on yearly spend limits. On average, most memberships have three or four tier levels, but Neiman Marcus/Bergdorf Goodman’s InCircle has a total of eight! Each store offers members a variety of exclusive benefits that range anywhere from upgraded shipping and free gift wrapping all the way to complimentary alterations/leather upkeep and dining at in-store restaurants. I’m guessing most of us don’t have multi-six-figure luxury budgets to qualify for the highest God-level tiers, so I focused on the first few of each that have spend limits up to the $10,000 mark.
Rewards Rates: 2x points spent on every $1 spent. Members receive $100 credit after earning 10,000 points (equal to spending $5,000.)
Intro Offer: There is a 5000 point sign-up bonus if you make a purchase in the first 30 days of being a member.
Pros: InCircle has the most perks out of any membership available. Spending up to $10,000 will put the customer in the fifth tier and give them access to “double point” days, free 2-day shipping, $75 of spending credit, free gift wrapping, and access to concierge services to help them with dining reservations, travel accommodations, and securing tickets to popular events. Since members receive a 5000 point bonus if they make a purchase within the first month, they really only need to spend another $2,500 to make it to 10,000 points and get the free (additional) $100 credit.
This membership is perfect for those who buy 2-3 new handbags per year.
Cons: American Express holders don’t get the same opportunities to earn bonus points. Also, spending credits expire within 6 months of being issued.
Events are the secret sauce for successfully building a community amongst a store’s clientele. They help the store showcase new or popular products while also giving customers special occasions to work into their social calendars. The five most common types of events are pop-up shops, trunk shows, masterclasses, showroom tours, and meet & greets with designers, chefs, or artists ﹘ much like London-based artist, Boyarde, did for Harrods. Due to the pandemic, many stores relied more on virtual events over the past two years, but in-store events have picked back up. Most events are seasonal.
Frequency: Most events are seasonal, with anyone store having 2-4 events per season. Technically, Saks Fifth Avenue has more events because there are more store locations than Neiman and Bergdorf combined. Saks has more virtual events while Neiman Marcus & Bergdorf Goodman have more in-store events.
Pros: Each store’s events offer something different depending on the customers’ interests. Saks holds many charitable events so shoppers can feel good about where their money goes. It also hosts more influential speakers with backgrounds in high fashion and luxury. On the other side, Neiman Marcus & Bergdorf Goodman InCircle members are able to attend most events no matter which tier of membership they’re on.
Cons: Certain Saks locations in high-profile places like NYC and Palm Beach also have great in-store events; they just aren’t as accessible to those living in smaller cities. Additionally, the super fun VIP events at Saks are still invite-only, regardless of whether you are already a member.
Online shopping has long overtaken brick-and-mortar in terms of generated revenue. Customers’ preference for e-shopping typically comes from the ease and comfort felt by only needing to make a few quick clicks, so it’s important that stores really invest in their customers’ online experience (especially since many of us don’t live near a brick-and-mortar store.)
Info: Of all the desktop sites and apps, Nordstrom is one of the most visually appealing and easy to navigate. The website features an uncluttered home page with organized drop-down menus. Product pages feature photos of the items from every angle and visible customer reviews and ratings. All items are eligible for standard shipping and free returns. Saks comes in at a very close runner-up but lost points because it doesn’t have an Android app.
Looks like Bloomingdales needs to step their game up!
Which department store is your favorite?