To bag or not to bag: Neiman Marcus accepts peasant cards

When I am feeling highly optimistic, I hit Neiman Marcus where everything fashionable seems possible. From old lady glamour to funky minimal art snob and nouveau old-school sophisticate, I <heart> Neiman Marcus but not because I have bought a ton of stuff there. In fact, I have only purchased two items from NM, and that was this fall for a birthday present.

My earliest experience with NM was when my grandmother would take me there to look at (over-priced) children’s clothes, and we would eat at the tea room. “Darling,” she would say, “it is better to have one thing that is nice than to have three things that are cheap and tacky.” My grandmother was a very subtle woman. Nonetheless, those were special days and I always waited for her trips to town so we could shop at the Galleria together. Later, as I got older, a trip to NM was equally as special as I got to look at all of the beautiful things that I would never be able to afford. And, for the most part, that is still the case.

In past years I have been gifted with trinkets from NM – a pair of beautiful red shoes, a lovely grown-up black leather bag, make-up splurges while on vacation. And so, for me, NM, is as much about it’s elusive quality – a very, very special treat — as it is about its products and NM has done well by that philosophy (this past quarter its profit doubled on sales of more than $1 billion despite the ongoing economic context) which is why I was surprised to hear that they are accepting Visa and MasterCard in addition to their traditional credit account and American Express. Now, to be fair, NM has been accepting Visa and MC online for years and Bergdorf Goodman, which is owned by NM, has always accepted these cards. So here’s the question – why?

Karen Katz, CEO, claims that she wants to open up NM to more potential shoppers which must have been an interesting discussion with her exclusive partners at HSBC Partners (who owns the NM credit card debt) and American Express who have cornered the market on NM purchases for years.

Enough with the credit cards — what about cash? Have we all forgotten that NM has always accepted cash? Because I do not have a NM card and I needed to purchase a few items in October, I pulled out cash from the ATM and then waltzed to the men’s department, feeling quite lovely and sophisticated. However, once the shopping commenced, I tried desperately to do math in my head while picking out items so I could stay on budget. I mean, the cash is the limit, right? This did not feel sophisticated, I assure you. But once I arrived at the register — total blazing on the screen before me, I pulled out my wallet and started counting. It was as if I was using a rotary phone in front of this guy! He was not only aghast that I would dirty him with counting bills but he rolled his eyes at me and whisked me away as quickly as possible. I felt like a total peasant despite the fact that I had spent $350 on two dress shirts!

Point being — so much of who NM is revolves around the credit card — it’s very high interest rate and its exclusivity —  because if it was about the customer service or the quality of items, my cash payment wouldn’t have phased him a bit.

So again, why would they do this and, moreover, why does this matter to me? Will I now buy more items at NM because I can use my debit card? No.

Neiman Marcus has always been a safe shopping haven for me for the sheer fact that I didn’t  have the card. (Please note cash = staying on budget story above) If I saw something that I wanted, I was required to save up for it; I would have to set the cash aside. Through this process I found was that I was in love with imagining and speculating about the Stella McCartney dresses or Dior shoes or Prada handbags and so by the time I could get the money together, I was on to something else. My lack of card made me financially responsible and question whether I really loved something or not.

There are very few opportunities in this world where limits are put on us financially. Someone will always find a way to help us spend money that we either do or do not have.  When there are no limits, however, we can get ourselves in big trouble – like purchasing a $1500 handbag on a whim and then looking up and realizing that we’ve maxed out a credit card so God help us if something goes wrong with the car.

Now, I am not saying that I am the most financially disciplined person. I do not have enough in savings. I have yet to commit to purchasing a house and I am constantly lured by shoes at DSW but my shoe closet and I definitely have limits and although those limits keep me from running out and getting the Prada work bag that I so desperately want – it keeps me honest.

And so, dear Neiman Marcus, despite you lowering yourself to appeal to peasants like me by accepting any type of payment possible, I will keep you in the heavens with all the Valentino pumps and Dior party dresses  — beautiful, unattainable, and capable of causing frenzied imagination.  I will leave you as a special, special treat where if I love something enough, and have saved up enough, I will pay in cash. And isn’t this the best form of treat — something beautiful without the shopping hang-over?

To see what Neiman Marcus thinks we all deserve for Christmas this year, take a look at the holiday book, a treasured NM tradition

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