This morning at Saks Fifth Avenue's flagship store in Midtown Manhattan — when the store discounts its merchandise by up to 75% — the scene on the women's designer shoe floor was particularly chaotic. Customers grabbed heels and loafers, trying to avoid stepping on each other at every turn. Piles of unmatched shoes lay on the floor and on tables, as shoppers signed credit card slips for six and seven hundred dollars. Other employees couldn't clear away the shoes nobody wanted fast enough. "This is nuts," a woman muttered as she shoved me out of her way.
Sarita Jennings, who's worked at Saks for the past few months, said that the post-Christmas rush was "just as bad" as the day after Thanksgiving, aka Black Friday. You'd think people would be all shopped out after the holidays, but "they're just getting started," she said. And menswear, where she works, was nothing compared to women's shoes, which is known to be the most insane floor (shoppers have to line up just to get into the department). A pair of security guards by the stairs said two fights had broken out in that department alone on Black Friday. In addition to its own security team, Saks employs off-duty and retired police officers on crazy sale days to help diffuse tension before it escalates to dangerous levels.
Outside the store, a man named Jackson Thomas was collecting money for charity for the homeless — but he said that Saks' morning crowds had seemed smaller than previous years. Usually his donations pick up this week, he said, but it's been a tough, slow season with lackluster holiday-time retail foot traffic. Indeed, retail sales overall increased only about 0.7% in the two months leading up to Christmas, rather than the expected 3 to 4%. Weak holiday sales figures could result in retailers making fewer restock orders, and in turn wholesalers buying fewer goods from factories.
Thomas thought Hurricane Sandy was a possible reason for his own charity's lull. "People are donating to that," he said. "Can't blame 'em."
But inside Saks, Hurricane Sandy and potential hard times ahead felt like the furthest thing from shoppers' minds. Around 12:30 the women's shoe floor closed for 15 minutes for reorganization. Although the 50% to 75% off sale ended at noon, the remaining shoes would be sold at 40% off, a deep enough discount for plenty of shoppers to hang around, fighting over the dwindling selection.
And with the hours for the deepest discounting over, shoppers relaxed considerably. Groups stopped to admire the store's elaborate window displays, which might have gone unnoticed in the enormous rush to get in the doors that morning.
"I don't get it," one man said, pointing at a display featuring a pair of little girls appearing to roast a snowflake over a bonfire. "What are they supposed to be selling?"