Final Reflection: Bye, Bye Bloomingdale’s

Bloomingdale’s Final Reflection:

According to my Personal Plan paper (February 2019), I sought to secure an internship for Summer 2019 in the retail or wealth management industries where I could experience the field(s) in order to determine whether I have the skills necessary to be successful in a full-time position after graduation. After working my personal network of contacts, I was able to get an introduction into Bloomingdale’s, and after a series of interviews, was able to secure a position as a buying intern at Bloomingdale’s this summer. Bloomingdale’s offered a comprehensive internship program for 60 interns (40 in the NYC office) with a highly structured educational element through targeted retail-specific and career development courses, assessments, roundtable discussions and relevant field trips as well as a customizable experience through shadowing opportunities and individual and group projects that constantly challenged the interns. This structured experience paired with feedback, through mid-point and final assessments, made me reflect on how much I have learned these past 10 weeks and how the University of Richmond has equipped me with the skills, particularly transferable skills, to succeed in the industry. In this paper, I will highlight how this customizable internship program enabled me to achieve the learning objectives that I outlined in my learning contract and, secondly, I will outline how the Jepson education impacted my experience, in particular during my group project, as well as my understanding of the organization and the workplace culture.

One of my greatest hesitations of pursuing a career in retail as opposed to Wealth Management is the concern over the continued viability of traditional Brick and Mortar retail stores, such as Bloomingdale’s, in a rapidly changing retail landscape heavily influenced by Amazon and other online distribution channels. Therefore, as I outlined in my learning contract, one of my objectives was to learn about how Bloomingdale’s is adapting to this changing retail landscape as it seeks to succeed. We were formally introduced to the reality of the retail industry during Week 2 at the Central Address with the CEO of Bloomingdale’s, Tony Spring, which I referenced in my Theories and Action Blog Post. The Central Address took place the day after the Hudson Bay Company received an offer to go private with Saks Fifth Avenue. Through roundtable discussions/Q&A with Tony Spring (CEO) and Charles Anderson (EVP of Stores), and panels with the operations, social media and marketing departments, as well as shadowing in the main NYC store itself, I learned that Bloomingdale’s views this on-line distribution as both a challenge and an opportunity. In comparison to their closest competitor, Nordstrom, who has over 100 stores, Bloomingdale’s is relatively small with only 34 full line stores. Even in this increasingly competitive landscape, Bloomingdale’s is continuing to grow this number of stores with the intention of exclusively catering to more omni-channel customers. According to Bloomingdale’s, the omni-channel customer is the customer that interacts both online as well as in-store. The key to success is both the in-store component as well as the fact that the data supports that in-store customers spend significantly more money than online customers. Therefore, Bloomingdale’s is not simply focusing on their online browser, social media and app, but they are also enhancing their stores (the NYC flagship recently underwent a massive renovation) to support enhanced levels of specialty product and services target toward these valuable omni-channel customers.

Specifically, I was able to observe that Bloomingdale’s is adapting to this dynamic retail environment by encouraging its online customers to come into the physical store. They are accomplishing this through programs such as “buy online pick-up in store” (BOPS) and “buy online ship to store” (BOSS), which both increase in-store foot traffic. Additionally, they want to ensure that shopping at Bloomingdale’s is a unique experience. For example, Bloomingdale’s recently introduced the “Carousel” which is a rotating pop-up store (currently “Style Kingdom” for the Lion King Premier) that features curated merchandise and events, interactive technology in the cosmetics department, a flip burger bar where you can watch photoshoots while dining and the traditional “FROYO” at Forty Carrots. I was able to observe first hand that one of the greatest challenges for Bloomingdale’s is how to introduce these new innovations to create an in-store experience while also remaining true to their history, brand and values.

As a traditional retailer in this dynamic retail environment, the fundamental challenge is attracting its traditional customers into the physical store so that he/she can take full advantage of the exclusive merchandising experiences that are available to them in-store, and through the Bloomingdale’s website and app. One of the most successful methods of doing this is to employ an online stylist who encourages the customer to book an appointment in the physical store. Another method is to provide customers with gift certificates, which are awarded following an online purchase, that can only be redeemed online. Overall, this topic of creating and maintaining the omni-channel customer was prevalent throughout the internship because the executives identified this challenge and they have focused their solution (omnichannel customer) but they still sought and needed our innovative ideas and solutions. For example, I emailed back and forth with the CEO Tony Spring on one of my solutions: creating a stylist program at the BOPS station where selected merchandise is presented to the consumer based on what the customer bought online. This would help (hopefully) promote additional purchases as well as give credibility to the stylist program, which Bloomingdale’s is also expanding.

Throughout the summer, I was afforded the opportunity to observe first hand how Bloomingdale’s interacts within the entire retail landscape (i.e. their history, future, values). Through the learning plan activities and field trips, and through the specific buying training program I was also able to learn about the specific position that I would want to work in if I were to work there as a full-time employee (i.e. buyer). My shadowing time in the Ready To Wear department allowed me to grasp what is entailed to being a buyer at Bloomingdale’s, as well as the career path. I shadowed my Buyer and Site Supervisor, Samantha Small, as well as the Assistant Buyer and the Senior Assistant Planner, seeing them go through their daily tasks. Additionally, I was able to shadow them during trend meetings and market appointments, which is not an everyday occurrence. As I became more familiar with the systems and reports they utilized, the team would give me small tasks such as putting orders into the system and approving images for the website that eventually culminated in my individual final contribution project. I also was able to shadow in the store and I learned about the importance of the central (buying and planning) teams regularly communicating with the store teams. I was able to help facilitate this (an aspect that is neglected across Bloomingdale’s) by creating vendor and product knowledge decks for three new vendors that were then distributed to the stores, which ultimately formed the basis for my individual final contribution project. This project will help educate the selling associates on how best to sell these brands and specific August products and will hopefully encourage more dialogue for feedback between the stores and our buying team. By the end of the summer, I felt comfortable with the terminology and the software/reports that they utilized and I could see myself having both the analytical and communication skills to succeed in an Assistant Buying position, which would be my initial job placement.

While an understanding of Bloomingdale’s in the current retail environment and the buying job function are two general overviews of what I learned at Bloomingdale’s over the past 10 weeks, my Leadership Studies background allowed me to look at and better understand the organization from a different perspective. As I discussed in my Week 4 Organizational Culture Blog, I was able to inform the way my group project team understood the organization of Bloomingdale’s and therefore, how we should look at and critically assess our group project. Our group project was to provide recommendations on how to improve the culture at Bloomingdale’s, especially as the corporate office moves to their Long Island City campus. I quickly observed that Bloomingdale’s had a hierarchical organization at all levels of the company, which is not necessarily a bad structure. There was unison within teams, such as between the buyer, planner, senior assistant buyer and planner, and assistant buyer and planner. There was also interaction between teams in one department, such as within RTW (ready to wear), because the regional merchandise manager unites them through styles outings and trend meetings, however, that is where it ends. There is little unison between different departments of the organization, such as between RTW and home, which represents a culture problem for the organization.

My leadership studies major has helped inform me that changing an embedded business cultures initially depends on the organizational leadership and is not simply achieved by moving to a new campus location. The new space at Long Island City has even more physical division (i.e. smaller but more floors) that could further this departmental divide, but it does have more flex and common spaces, such as the Bloomingdale’s rooftop and lobby, for interaction. If Bloomingdale’s wants to improve the culture of their organization then they need to promote the interaction across departments by having division leadership display unison and strongly encourage it of their followers. For example, some of our group recommendations include a weekly Morning Meeting at the corporate office where each department presents about what is new at their department as well as the little brown board which features different departmental news. However, in order to be successful the senior management needs to attend these meetings to emphasize and show the importance of unity between departments. At our final presentation in front of the executive committee, they were extremely receptive and supportive of our recommendations.

Another specific problem that I recognized because of my leadership studies experiences was the division between the stores teams and merchant teams, which I discussed in my week 4 blog. The company is deeply concerned that this problem will be exasperated as Bloomingdale’s moves to the Long Island City Campus, because it is physically located further from the main NYC store. When I was shadowing in the NYC store, I was able to determine one of the leading reasons this was happening. I asked the manager I was shadowing, how frequently the senior leadership was physically visiting the stores and the answer was not even once a year. This is a problem because it provides no incentive for the buying teams to visit the store. The manager for my department did not even know any of the buyers of their respective departments. I view this as a major communications problem as I strongly believe that the buyers would be able to buy more effectively at market with insight from the sales associates. Additionally, the sales associates would be able to sell more effectively if they had insights from the buyers. I was able to help remedy this in a small way by my product and vendor knowledge presentation deck as well as by attending the Theory conclave event. However, in my opinion, solving this problem requires greater ongoing collaboration between the merchant and stores leadership.

As a result of these perceptions on the organization, I approached all of the work I completed throughout the internship with not only the customer in mind but the other directly facing departments, including the fashion office, finance, social media team, and the stores’ team. Bloomingdale’s emphasizes the importance for buyers to maintain relationships with the vendors but I think that they need to encourage buyers/planners to maintain better relationships within the organization. One of my specific recommendations in our final wrap up with the executive committee, was to include the stores’ team in the market appointments so that they see the logic behind what and why the buyer was buying enabling suggestions from their hands-on selling expertise.

As I reflect on my learning contract, I am pleased that I accomplished the majority of my learning objectives and also that I was able to contribute to Bloomingdale’s, as I outlined in my Site Description Paper. I was not only able to contribute through everyday tasks for my team and long term recommendations through my project, but I was also an upbeat member of the vibrant Bloomingdale’s community. Bloomingdale’s provided us with many opportunities for feedback, and my feedback largely reinforced that I was impacting Bloomingdale’s in a positive way, as I had hoped to do. The Bloomingdale’s internship was largely what I expected, but it amplified that the work environment can truly be an upbeat environment where I could see myself thriving in the future. I look forward to recommending this internship program to other Richmond students that are interested in the retail and fashion fields in the future.