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Macy’s targets bargain shoppers

Store chain's Backstage discount outlets to open next week

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In this  Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, contractors put the finishing touches on an electrical power station outside the dressing room at the Macy's Backstage store in the Queens borough of  New York. The store, which is opening next week, is about the same size as a T.J. Maxx and offers many of the designer brands like Calvin Klein that shoppers come to expect at Macyís department stores.
In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, contractors put the finishing touches on an electrical power station outside the dressing room at the Macy's Backstage store in the Queens borough of New York. The store, which is opening next week, is about the same size as a T.J. Maxx and offers many of the designer brands like Calvin Klein that shoppers come to expect at Macyís department stores. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Photo Gallery

NEW YORK — Macy’s has an answer to T.J. Maxx and other stores that sell deeply discounted designer brands.

The department store chain, which is set to open its previously announced Macy’s Backstage discount stores this fall in the New York City area, gave The Associated Press an early look at one of its new outlet stores.

The store, which is opening next week in Elmhurst, Queens, is about the same size as a T.J. Maxx and offers Calvin Klein, Sunglass Hut and many of the other designer brands that shoppers come to expect at Macy’s department stores.

But the outlet is distinctly different from Macy’s department stores. Backstage is working with new brands, including Fila and Reebok, and new labels such as Elf in the beauty section. And whereas shoppers can get such basics as suits and makeup at Macy’s, Backstage is meant more for treasure hunting, the company says.

“You’re going to get a little bit of a different vibe from what I would call our older sister, Macy’s,” said Vanessa LeFebvre, senior vice president of Backstage. “Here, we’re trying to attract new and different customers.”

Macy’s decision to jump into the off-price game comes as the retailer faces slowing sales. Shoppers increasingly are buying online and shifting their spending on their homes and such experiences as going out to eat. And when they do buy clothing, they want fat deals on name brands.

During the Great Recession, shoppers flocked to discount outlets, and that trend isn’t slowing down. Scott Tuhy, credit officer at Moody’s Investor Service, expects market share in the off-price arena to increase to 9.8 percent in 2018, up from 6.6 percent in 2009.

“The biggest disadvantage (Macy’s) has is that they have some formidable competitors,” Tuhy said.

Backstage offers a no-frills experience targeting busy moms looking to grab a deal on purses, lipstick or something for their children. Shopping carts are stacked at the front entrance, and there’s clear signage directing shoppers to various departments. There are large fitting rooms that have charging stations nearby.

Macy’s trademark red star has been infused with bright colors like pink, yellow and blue. And throughout the store, there are quirky signs. One of them says “Fake it ’til you make it,” which highlight faux leather jackets.

And, then, of course, there are the deals. In the shoe area, for instance, there were $9.99 spiked boots and Ralph Lauren black suede boots discounted to $169.99 from $695. In another department, Marc New York leather jackets were slashed to $99 from $500.

LeFebvre said she travels around the country to find merchandise for discounts of 20 to 80 percent off similar items.

Macy’s said it picked the fiercely competitive New York City area for its first outlet stores for a reason. Four of the six outlet stores will open on Sept. 2; the others will open later this fall.

“New Yorkers are tough critics and we’re going to learn quickly,” LeFebvre said.

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