Luxury Retailer Neiman Marcus Is Bitten by the Sharp Teeth of an OcelotBoot

In a tough year for luxury retailers, every sale counts. That might be especially true at Neiman Marcus, which reported a 27.1% sales decline in July compared to June. And that might be why the luxury retailer told The Dallas Morning News that it would contact but not necessarily provide refunds to online customers who paid nearly $1,500 for a pair of Manolo Blahnik boots that were not trimmed with the ocelot fur described on the Neiman Marcus web site.The boots were actually trimmed with goat hair that was dyed to look like ocelot fur. Neiman Marcus told the newspaper that the description of the boots was an error which has since been corrected. It's not known how many customers bought the pricey boots, or if any of them demanded refunds. But the erroneous claim raised the fur of the Humane Society of the United States, which issued a news release pointing out that, if indeed it was real ocelot fur spilling down from the top of the white knee-high, high-heel boots, then Neiman Marcus was breaking the law, given the ocelot's official status as an endangered species.

Any short-term impact on sales as a result of the error is likely less of a concern for Neiman Marcus than the need to preserve its reputation for quality in the long term. In a November 2008 Knowledge at Wharton article,"Luxury Brands: Marketing the Upscale During a Downturn," a panel or high-end retail executives described their efforts to maintain the reputations that support their prices.

More from Knowledge at Wharton:

The New High-end Consumer: 'Please Put My Bottega Veneta Wallet in a Plain Bag'

The Shopper of Tomorrow: Trading Down