Emily Essner

How Saks’ CMO Creates a Customer-Driven Approach to Digital

There’s no doubt that the future of retail is digital. And now, Saks is doubling down on that theory by spinning off its digital and e-commerce presence to create a separate entity from its physical stores.

CMO Emily Essner says that the experience for customers hasn’t changed, but spinning off the digital arm allows Saks to solidify its investment in the future of digital in an increasingly complex world. The digital-specific business can focus solely on growing an omnichannel experience without other distractions.

Customers are at the focus of Saks’ decision to spin off the digital arm, knowing that establishing two businesses would allow for a strong customer experience and allow customers to shop wherever is convenient and comfortable for them—in-store or online. Essner says it’s important to Saks to create a cohesive brand and experience, even down to the same marketing working on both sides. Saks’ physical stores and digital presence aren’t competing for customers. Instead, they provide the best of both worlds: an investment in digital pure-play and the ability to offer a holistic in-store experience.

Going all in on digital and preparing for the future of retail means using data to drive digital growth channels. Essner says customer data is even more crucial than it was just five years ago. But the sheer volume of available data can be overwhelming. Saks uses a holistic model to guide personalization in its touchpoints.

Essner says one reason for Saks’ success is its hypothesis-driven approach. Essner and her team use data to support or disprove their hypotheses about what makes customers loyal and valuable. Analyzing what drives a customer’s lifetime value, what harms it, and what the brand can do to improve it provides direction and focus in the sea of customer data and helps Saks continually improve its digital experience and increase its customer lifetime value.

Ultimately, Essner realizes that customers have a lot of choices. And if Saks doesn’t serve them exactly what they’re looking for, they’ll go to another retailer. Keeping customers central to its digital efforts and continually working to create a cohesive and personalized experience ensures customers are valuable and loyal to Saks—no matter if they shop online or in-store.


Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist and the bestselling author of The Customer of the FutureFor regular updates on customer experience, sign up for her weekly newsletter here

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