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Macy's fashion outlook

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Shelley Sumter says Macy's offers attentive customer service (MPR Photo/Annie Baxter)
Federated Department Stores Incorporated has announced it's expanding its Macy's and Bloomingdale's brands. Starting next fall, all Marshall Fields stores will adopt the Macy's name. And some merchandising changes will follow suit. Federated bought the chain earlier this year as part of a larger transaction. Shoppers can expect a few changes.

St. Paul, Minn. — Next year, hundreds of department stores nationwide will undergo an identity change. A handful of stores will be converted to Bloomingdale's. But it's the Macy's name that will propagate most dramatically. The chain will operate a total of 850 stores in seven geographic hubs.

Minneapolis is one of those hubs; it will be the center of the "Macy's North" division, which comprises 64 stores in eight states.

And Marshall Fields merchandise buyers will continue on at "Macy's North."

So from a merchandise point of view, there won't be huge changes, though some of Macy's own brands will become available, according to Federated's Vice Chair Sue Kronick.

"What will be different will be all the additional things customers are going to be able to get," she says. "We have famed Macy's private brands and new merchandise offerings that can't be found anywhere else."

But to Pioneer Press shopping columnist Alllison Kaplan, the switch-over isn't for the better.

"I think especially in the Twin Cities, shoppers have the impression that Macy's is kind of junky, really; that it's rather chaotic, and merchandise is a mess. And that it's not as nice as Marshall Field's. And so they're concerned that Macy's is going to bring it down," she notes.

Kaplan says Macy's brand expansion will give it somewhat of an edge in competing with retail powerhouses like Wal-mart, which has 3,000 stores nationwide. But to Kaplan, Macy's will be lacking in a key element.

"For shoppers who care about fashion and designer, they wished it had been Bloomingdale's instead of Macy's. Bloomingdales's is the higher end store. Blooingdale's is where Federated puts all the fashion labels. That's where they're looking for fashion forward merchandise and break out merchandise," she says, "whereas Macy's is more fashion for the masses."

But some Twin Cities shoppers say they won't mind the switch from Marshall Field's to Macy's. Just outside the downtown St. Paul Marshall Field's, Shelley Sumter says as a former Dayton's employee, she's still mourning the name change from Dayton's to Marshall Field's a few years ago. But she says overall, she likes Macy's customer service.

"They tend to be right there, whereas at Marshall Field's... I just shopped and paid a couple hundred dollars for interview clothes and had the hardest time getting someone to help. In the old days, there would've been someone to help. I was going for a whole new look," she explains.

Sumter says the main problem she foresees in the change over to Macy's is that its private labels won't be that recognizable in the Midwest.

But name changes aside, the actual look of the merchandise likely won't differ dramatically when Field's converts to Macy's. Retail experts say that's because department stores overall have become fairly homogenized, carrying the same famous maker labels like Calvin Klein and Liz Claiborne.

Retail consultant Howard Davidowitz says retailers have to differentiate by drawing from local tastes.

"Here's what I know about Minnesota: the color palette is darker than the south. Because Midwest folks tend to have darker colors longer, it's colder," he says.

If dark colors are all it takes to succeed with Minnesota's fashionistas, the conversion from Marshall Field's to Macy's might be an easy one. Besides, the name change won't occur for about a year -- plenty of time for Macy's to figure out Minnesota's sense of fashion.