Tom Carfora on Modern Retail Luxury

The new luxury shopping experience of 2020.

Tom Carfora has been in the luxury industry since 1990, starting off his career working at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. Tom refers to his early career in catering to 5th Avenue’s matrons and socialites, a time when Bergdorfs was a hallmark institution for finding unique and special luxury goods for wealthy individuals. Over the course of five years, Tom would work in customer service, manage the shoe department, and work in personal shopping before he would leave Bergdorfs and transition into working at Cartier as the store manager in the Short Hills Mall for twelve years. After working in high end jewelry, Tom went to work for the luxury rifle company Beretta on Madison Avenue. At Baretta, he worked on developing a luxury clientele for their high end clothing line. Soon after, Tom would return to luxury jewelry in a new capacity at Chopard, working as the store’s assistant director. In his first two years, Tom has accumulated millions of dollars worth of sales, which he accredits to his passion for meeting new people and love for luxury jewelry. 

When asked about what he thought was the most important part of his job, Tom answers making people feel comfortable and not badgering the customer. His go to tactic is to let the customers know that if they have any questions he is there to answer them and not to be pushy or domineering. “Walking into a luxury store can be intimidating at times, but I try and not make it feel that way for my clients. I tell them all about the history of the company, offer them something to drink, and have them just look around.” For Tom, judging customers that walk through the door is off the table. A billionaire in ripped jeans could walk into any store, that’s just our culture nowadays. Casual is pretty universal, no matter what your socioeconomic status is. 

ezgif.com-video-to-gif (2)One change in the industry that Tom notes is the way in which consumers wear and purchase jewelry. In the early 90s, Tom cites that clients had extreme brand loyalty and would invest heavily in expensive, statement jewelry sets. Now, however, consumers are more willing to purchase a myriad of pieces from different companies. Tom mentions that he often sees American consumers, specifically, dawning a range of different brands on one wrist even, Cartier love bracelets and Hermés Clic H bracelets stacked side by side. That being said, Tom does mention that he has noticed more mature American buyers will tend to stick with their trusted brands and have more brand loyalty. Additionally, in the U.S., he has noticed that consumers purchase jewelry for everyday wear, the majority of it being delicate and small. Tom references how this might align with the more casual customs the U.S. has adopted over the years, where a dark denim might appear as “dressing up” and sweats are appropriate outerwear. Tom shared that the hot new jewelry designs coming from Rosanne Karmes’s company Sydney Evan are fun, edgy, and delicate, pieces that everyone is looking for nowadays. Apart from Sydney Evan, Tom has a tried and true love for Cartier and Chopard, especially Chopard’s Happy Diamonds collection. 

One of the toughest things about working in the luxury retail space now is low traffic and drawing people into stores to buy, Tom says. However, he does mention that e-commerce is blowing up. Surprisingly, many people will easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on jewelry online. Along with the hesitancy of going out in public spaces during the COVID-10 pandemic, Tom notes that such high levels of online jewelry buying may have something to do with the different policies companies have purchasing jewelry in-store versus online. Online at Chopard, for example, customers can get a full refund for a return, which is different from in-person store purchases. \When people do come into the Chopard store, however, Tom notes that they have already perused the company’s website, having done their research, and know exactly what they want to purchase. That being said, there is much less in-store exploration and moments of instant discovery. 

ezgif.com-crop (1)My last question for Tom was what he thought the future of the luxury industry will look like? Tom mentioned that, first and foremost, it would benefit luxury brands to stay true to themselves and what the brand’s history promises. Heavy discounting and coupon codes can dramatically hurt a brand’s image, especially a luxury one. If discounts can be avoided, they should be at all costs. Tom also notes that coupons and discounts within the luxury industry have contributed to buyers putting off their purchasing until the discounting occurs, which can have drastic implications. This is, especially, a popular practice for many department stores, like Neiman Marcus and Lord and Taylor, who are now seeing the effects of such regular product reductions- one of many factors of course. 

On the consumer side, Tom sees the modern buyer as a busy and fast-paced individual, who no longer has the time to meander into shops and browse. This consumer receives email promotions, online ads, and social media posts about products that lead the consumer into following the trail to their respective e-commerce marketplace. After a click of a button and oftentimes free shipping, in just a few days the customer finds their item right at their doorstep, never having to step foot outside their house. There just isn’t enough time in the day for most Americans to peruse, try on, feel, and experience. With fear around the pandemic contributing to the online shopping craze, it looks like this trend will follow into the future. 

Tom’s dream? To revert back to a time when there was more balance in work and life. Where people did make the time to dress up, take their time to shop, and immerse themselves in whatever they are doing. “People need to enjoy themselves more,” says Tom. To that, I couldn’t agree more. 

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