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October 2, 2023

Bianca Shames – born a merchant, raised in VS and Gap

Retail was my whole life, managing our store. Knowing what a customer was looking for and serving them. It changed over the years. I loved serving a community and buying what they were looking for. 

It all started at Ciao Bella Moda.

Bianca Shames: “Retail was my whole life, managing our store. Knowing what a customer was looking for and serving them. It changed over the years. I loved serving a community and buying what they were looking for. 

And from then, she was hooked. 

Bianca Shames: “I worked in college for different types of retailers, from J.Crew and Urban Outfitters to Versace, which landed me at Victoria’s Secret after college.” 

Bianca’s experience spans every vertical in fashion “luxury, intimates, swim, sleepwear, kids, women’s apparel, and maternity wear. I’ve gotten a full view over the last 10-plus years in corporate fashion.” 

Safe to say, she has hit her 10,000 hours of mastery multiple times over – and now she’s graciously sharing her wealth of knowledge with us. 

With that wide range of brands comes a wide range of shoppers. How have you managed that throughout your career to always serve them what they’re looking for? 

It's hard. The more history you have on a business, whether it's small or larger scale, helps you in future seasons. Today, what separates the strong winners from the middle to poor performers is knowing their shoppers. The trouble these brands have had over the years is from trying to be something they're not. You have to return to your roots – as an icon style or brand because there are so many trends you just can't win a moment.

As we near Black Friday and Cyber Monday, have you seen more brands pivot away from this heavy sales period or lean into it? How has that evolved over the years? 

Brands are starting to catch that Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren't this end all and all be shopping day, right? I remember being a kid and feeling like I had to go on Black Friday. It's going to be so fun. We'll get up early and shop – it’s still that mindset, but less so now because people are shopping earlier. People are nervous about the economy during this specific season this year, so they’ll start shopping earlier. 

I think it'll be interesting to see when brands turn on like holiday focus. My guess is October because people are going to try to get the best deal. They’re not waiting for Black Friday for that deal anymore. 

The reality is that many brands I've worked for start the deals early. They want you to shop early. They're not going to put all that pressure on those two days. That's what we'll see, especially in the e-commerce space. 

On that point, how do you expect it to be led by ecomm? How can more D2C or upstart brands leverage tips that you’ve seen have worked in corporate retail?  

People love a deal. They want to know that what they're buying is worth it. Quality is still so important. But then the price point is so enticing, right? It hits through online because you can have a million browsers open. Let’s say you’re looking for a pair of sneakers and may be loyal to a specific brand. You’ll shop on ten different sites until you see one that has $20 off, or it comes with free shipping. 

It’s essential to have a compelling deal. 

You would think free returns are so easy. Few brands are doing it anymore. The latest data I've seen is about 70 percent of brands don’t offer free returns. From this side of the house, I understand. But now, as a customer, I'm returning a coat for my son that's too small, and you're telling me I have to pay $7.99 to return it. It’s a big turnoff for some customers. 

The new offer I’m starting to see is a future discount or gift. You're buying this now, get a coupon later, or have better access. I’ve seen early access lists to shop Black Friday Cyber Monday ahead. The access makes people feel special. “Early access, limited time” the copy in the offer can feel like they’re getting a deal made for them – customers like that. 

Who's winning is really at this holiday time is going to be offering the best deals.

For more sustainable brands who are looking to promote more conscious consumption, how would you recommend they approach this BFCM season?

Sustainability is an interesting one. It's still very relevant to people, but it depends on the type of company and product. There are levels of importance for people. We see in the kids' space that many moms like the idea of organic,  but their kid is growing so fast. The organic t-shirt now costs them double what it used to cost them. In that space, they do not see it as essential.

On the contrary, I’ve seen many shoe brands stop offering shoeboxes. I love that. Those are such a waste. People respond to those types of brands. 

It's a challenge at this time of year because they still have to offer a discount to play into this space, even if it's something shallow, like $10 or $15. 

As we get closer to BFCM, what have you found helps you stay even keel through the season? 

It's super challenging. You feel stress for a variety of different reasons during the holiday season. People put so much pressure on the success of the holiday window for corporate environments. It determines the success between a down or maintain year to an excel year. 

The other piece of it is wanting to minimize your returns. You’re hanging tight until February. I like to be around family and friends when I'm stressed. I find joy in relaxing and unplugging, yoga, meditation, and reading. I love time with people that I love. 

That motivates me to do better in my job because I love that aspect of my life. So, spending time with family and friends, traveling, and staying busy helps calm me. It's about stepping away. Many people are afraid to take time off at the end of the year, and it's crucial to avoid burnout, even if it's just a personal day. 

I already plugged in a few days on my calendar. That I'm like, you know what? That is going to be my mental health day. It's a me day. I always encourage my team to have those days, too. 

Remember, those two days are meaningful… but it's a season. It's a marathon, right? I look at an older generation. My mom starts shopping early. She'll start picking up things as she sees them. Same with my grandmother, but my sisters will buy on the twenty-third of December. It’s like a reminder that it's different for everyone. It's an extended period, and you will get through it, but you must find time for yourself.

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