The Dillard name has been on hundreds of stores for decades, but grandchildren of founder William T. Dillard are using their first names and faces to bring the department store chain's merchandise to a younger audience.
In an Instagram account called "The Edit by D3" (@annemariealexandramichelle) and a corresponding page on the Dillard's website, three daughters of Dillard's Inc. President Alex Dillard are sharing their personal style with the public the way they used to with friends. Introduced as "the three Dillard sisters," all three are married and working mothers: twins Annemarie Jazic and Alexandra Lucie and younger sister Michelle Hobbs.
"The Edit by D3 started because so many friends would ask us for our recommendations on which products/items to purchase. We began giving recommendations via texts and instant messages, then it evolved to sending friends links with personal shopping lists of sorts," says Jazic, who is vice president of online experience for the corporation.
She created an Instagram account separate from her personal account as a place to share favorite items from current merchandise. Her sisters are also Dillard's Inc. executives — Lucie is vice president of merchandising and Hobbs is director of exclusive brand shoes — and they were similarly sharing their recommendations with friends.
"So my Dillard’s-focused Instagram evolved into all three of us."
Actually, more than just the three of them. What started "organically," Jazic says, has evolved into a showcase for more of the Dillard's team.
"Doing this page showed us that customers appreciate seeing a more personal approach and seeing some of the faces behind the scenes in our organization. We now feature many of our talented associates on a regular basis on our Dillard’s Instagram page."
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Dillard's Inc. does not break out online sales in its earnings reports, but Jazic gives a hint: "Our e-commerce growth the past three years has been incredible. It's been unparalleled."
Part of that was forced upon the company and its customers by the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck at a particularly bad time for Jazic. She gave birth to her second child just a week before the pandemic upended life and business in March 2020, but it was her job to oversee the pivot — a word she finds overused — to online-only sales.
"It was a tough time," she recalls. "It was a tough time. The baby was a bad sleeper, and we didn't have a lot of child care."
Ultimately all 285 Dillard's stores were closed, most of them for more than a month, temporarily making the Dillard's website the only sales channel for a company that has prided itself on the in-store customer experience. Unlike strictly online retailers like Amazon, Dillard's has used its network of stores as fulfillment centers, creating what she called "a blurred line between what is an ecommerce sale and what is a brick-and-mortar sale." Then the pandemic "pushed us to put that blurred line on warp speed."
One small blessing was that her husband Ante's soccer academy also had to shut down, so he was able to stay home with the kids while she was close by at the Dillard's headquarters in Little Rock. And she wasn't alone.
"My dad was going to work, too. The family was going to work."
Lucie was working too, although not in Little Rock. She lives in Atlanta with her banker husband and children, ages 6 and 3, and travels regularly. Her job includes women's and children's clothing and development of the exclusive products she calls "the most important part of DIllard's, what sets us apart from our competition."
While the pandemic supercharged her twin's side of the business, snarls in the supply chain created an entirely different challenge for Lucie, including finding manufacturers that can deliver. China, which has been one source of manufacturing for Dillard's, frequently gets the blame, but Lucie says that's a simplistic view of a complicated problem.
"The delays we're seeing are not just a China issue," she says. "They are a worldwide problem."
Dillard's begins its fiscal year around Feb. 1 each year, and sales during the February-April quarter of 2020 were barely half what they had been during the same period in 2019 and still down by 35% in May-July. The COVID hit was too much to salvage a profit that fiscal year, but according to Jazic, it could have been much worse.
"We're fortunate that the pandemic hit when we have this [e-commerce] technology available," she says. "It would have been more devastating to retailers 10 years before."
The recent news out of Dillard's has been excellent, surprising stock analysts and delighting investors in Dillard's publicly traded stock. Total sales in the fiscal year that ended Jan. 29 were the highest in 13 years, and record profits — $862 million — more than made up for the loss the previous year. Whatever the Dillard's management did in response to the pandemic clearly set the company up for a rebound.
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Jazic says the website is constantly updated — not just the merchandise but the functionality as well — "to serve our customer whenever and wherever and however they want to be served." Customers, regardless of how close they live to a Dillard's store, can order online and have their merchandise delivered to their homes. Customers can also place an order for pickup in a store or curbside.
For many shoppers, dillards.com has become a starting point for in-store shopping.
"The No. 1 reason people come to our website and leave without buying something is they want to go to our store," Jazic says.
A typical example is a woman searching for the perfect dress for her daughter's wedding. She can narrow her choices, have multiple dresses shipped to a store to try on, supplement her selection with items from the store's regular inventory and also line up a special-day makeup look.
Of course, giving the mother-of-the-bride so many attractive choices requires Lucie's team to have the right merchandise at the right time. Predicting what finicky consumers will want at a date that is even further in the future than during the pre-COVID days may seem like magic or luck. Lucie says it is neither.
"We are incredibly strategic about how we buy and what we buy. We don't do a lot of guessing. There's a tremendous amount of thought and science behind what we do."
Dillard's makes use of trend-spotting services, Lucie says, but perhaps more important is feedback from customers and friends. This allows Dillard's to curate "subtle differences" in the merchandise mix in different geographic areas to mirror local preferences.
So what can women expect to see more of in Dillard's this year?
"The biggest trend going forward for this year will be a throwback to previous decades. The '90s are having a really big resurgence," says Lucie, and she's excited about it. "Everything is so circular. We've been long overdue for some new silhouettes in the mix."
The worst days of the pandemic seem to be behind the Dillard twins, who are 38. Jazic had a third baby earlier this year — all conceived using in vitro fertilization, a fact she is happy to share with other women.
"You can be both a mom and have a career," Lucie says. "It's doable. All three of us are doing it. You do your best and focus on having the right people who can help you keep moving forward."
Jazic says her father's generation and her generation are dependent on each other.
"We rely on them for their thoughtfulness and leadership, but they rely on us to tell them what's going on."
She heard Hise O. Gibson of the Harvard Business School give a lecture on "the crucible moment of intense stress," and Jazic knew her father and his siblings had navigated the corporation through just those sorts of crises.
Then came the pandemic, which gave her renewed appreciation for the decades of experience in the Dillard's executive team.
"They've been through hard times, and they know what has to happen to survive hard times."
And, Jazic says, "I've survived a crucible moment myself now."
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