Neiman’s Problem: It will never be cool.
Neiman Marcus knows that its post-bankruptcy survival depends on younger consumers. Generations Y and Z now drive 180% of growth in the global luxury market, and by 2025 will make up 70% of luxury sales.1 Unfortunately for Neiman, it has tried to attract a younger age demographic for decades, and failed miserably every time.2
Neiman has made an art form out of driving away young people. The average age of a Neiman customer – 51 – has not changed since at least 1996.3 One quarter of customers under age 55 abandoned the company in the past four years alone: since 2017, its percentage of Gen X/Y shoppers has declined by 23%.4 Neiman’s competitors couldn’t get numbers that bad if they tried.
And as with all things Neiman Marcus, the future is bleak. Studies demonstrate younger consumers’ strong affinity for companies with “momentum” and “a bright future,”5 meaning that Neiman is trapped in a negative feedback loop.
Neiman’s Fix: Green-washing its failures.
The data are overwhelming that younger consumers prioritize corporate social responsibility when choosing a brand. Nine out of ten will switch brands to a company aligned with a social cause.6 70% try to buy from brands they consider ethical,7 and 37% have abandoned or retreated from companies they consider unethical.8
But rather than actually adopt socially responsible practices, including a fur-free policy, Neiman is borrowing a tactic from its Dallas neighbors in the oil industry: green-washing.9 The company hired corporate consultants to “green” its image10 – and the results are guaranteed to tickle and delight for years to come.
Dispatches from 2021’s most embarrassing public relations campaign: Neiman showered congratulations upon itself for the revolutionary addition of a “sustainable styles” section to its website. It appended the phrase “environmental social governance” to a couple of mid-level administrators’ job titles. It reminded anyone who would listen of two-year-old plans for its acquisition of minority shares in a business selling second-hand women’s accessories. And it selectively trotted out alterations figures from 2019 to the press as if they were news, or had anything to do with the environment.11
What the cynics in Neiman’s PR department missed is that younger consumers value “authenticity” over all other factors in judging corporate social responsibility efforts and promotional campaigns.12
So how authentic is Neiman’s new-found passion for the planet?
Neiman Marcus: Environmental Terrorists
Fur production contributes to climate change, chemical pollution, biodiversity loss, and water contamination.
Fur farms annually produce billions of pounds of feces and thousands of tons of phosphorus, which pollute rivers and streams. They release hundreds of thousands of pounds of ammonia and other greenhouse gases into the air.
Trapping indiscriminately cripples or kills three non-target animals, including endangered species, for every fur-bearing target animal successfully trapped. This takes a heavy toll on species equilibrium and riparian ecology.
A toxic array of chemicals is required to preserve and dye decomposing animal skins – formaldehyde, ammonia, and various salts, chromates, and bleaching agents. Producing a fur coat with farmed animals uses twenty times as much energy as producing a faux fur coat.
1 “The Future of Luxury: Bouncing Back From Covid-19.” Bain & Company.
2 “Form 10-K, Neiman Marcus Group LLC, Annual Report FY1994.” U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
3 “Brief – Neiman Marcus Group Llc on conf call – Q4 writedown from review of 2013 acquisition of co.” Reuters.
4 “Form 10-K, Neiman Marcus Group Ltd LLC, Annual Report FY2017.” U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.; “$1.1 Billion Refinancing at Neiman’s; Confidential Memorandum Reveals Challenges.” WWD.
5 “YPulse Brand Report 2019.” YPulse.
6 “Corporate Social Responsibility Matters: Ignore Millennials at Your Peril.” Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication.
7 “‘True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies.” McKinsey & Company.
8 “The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020.” Deloitte.
9 “The Six Sins of Greenwashing: A Study of Environmental Claims in North American Consumer Markets.” TerraChoice Environmental Marketing.
10 “Neiman Marcus Group Acts on Sustainability.” WWD.
11 “Neiman Marcus Group Honors Earth Day by Announcing Development of Company’s First Environmental Social Governance Team, Strategy, Improvements.” Neiman Marcus Group.
12 “What Makes A CSR Message Resonate With Millennials And Generation-Z?” Forbes.