The art of the possible: Nordstrom Local

The art of the possible: Nordstrom Local

In our first focus on businesses doing great things, we look at the huge strides being made by American department store giant Nordstrom, as it targets an online-favouring audience with its new Local retail concept.

Omnichannel is far from a buzzword in 2018 – it’s a model that businesses are striving to implement, and for all the right reasons. However, most companies still have a major disconnect between online and physical stores, with little or no link between these sales channels.

In the US, one department store chain is taking huge, positive strides to break free from the trends that are hurting its rivals. While there may be impending bankruptcy for Sears, and as JCPenney continues to cut costs to remain competitive, Nordstrom is going from strength to strength on its mission to modernise, and unite its online and offline audiences.

The Seattle-based operator of over 350 stores across North America is already seeing the fruits of its labours, courtesy of a strategy that moves the brand away from the huge, monolithic units that department stores are forever associated with – the type of real estate that has spelled the end for so many companies before it.

To buck the negative trends in bricks-and-mortar retail, Nordstrom launched its Nordstrom Local retail store concept in 2017, in a move that seeks to revolutionise the retail store shopping experience. These pared-down locations aim to bring a smaller, more agile version of Nordstrom to its loyal customers, and it hopes to make relationships with a new breed of consumer along the way.

The Nordstrom Local storefront.

What is Nordstrom Local all about?

To get a grasp on an increasingly online-focused customer, Nordstrom has created a space that acts as a natural extension of ecommerce, but on the high street – while also adopting a model which can gather data to further enhance the experience these customers demand. This resulted in Nordstrom Local, a concept store on Melrose Place, Los Angeles, just a stone’s throw from Hollywood and the Sunset Strip.

The crux of the idea came from the company’s understanding that its customers preferred to shop online but wanted to pick up their goods in person – to ensure they were just right for them. Alongside a boutique store experience, it offers a range of complementary and considered services, with a bottom line on convenience, personalisation, comfort and speed, regardless of the occasion or requirement:

  • A free personal stylist service, “with zero pressure”, giving a bespoke consultation and curating the right look for you.
  • On-site tailors make your chosen clothing even more bespoke, offering a wide range of changes to clothing bought in store or online for free (providing it was bought at full price). If you didn't buy something at Nordstrom but it needs adjusting, they’ll still help for a fee.
  • A click and collect service with a twist: You can pick up an order in store, or a member of staff can walk it out to your car with “Curbside Pickup”.
  • Same-day delivery of in-stock items, for a flat rate of $15 per order.
  • An incredibly deluxe returns policy: All Nordstrom return orders (online or store-bought) can be given back at Nordstrom Local, or exchanged; all other businesses offering online returns will also be shipped by Nordstrom Local for free (if that’s the other company’s policy), or a flat rate of $5. Nordstrom will even provide the box, then email a tracking number.
  • A nail bar, on an appointment or drop-in basis, whether you’re waiting for clothing alterations or simply looking for a new look.
  • Local beer, wine or juice if you’re looking to relax during your appointments.

Package pick-up at Nordstrom Local.

What are the benefits to Nordstrom’s customers – and the industry?

What must be underlined is that Nordstrom is not trying to reinvent the wheel. On every level, and with every product or service you get as soon as you walk through its doors (or get passed through your car window, if you’re getting Curbside Pickup), all of it is perfectly understandable at a common-sense level. Nordstrom looked at what it was good at, looked at what the internet was good at, and took some time to stitch the two together. As a result, it created an old-school approach that has all the hallmarks of a high street from the past, where you could get everything you needed in the space of a short walk.

The Nordstrom Local idea proves that by offering locally complementary services without diverting too far away from the core business – a sort of “kill more than one bird with one stone (minimum)” approach – it will attract more people into store. The services listed above are simple extensions of things people have come to expect: delivery options, click and collect, and styling that goes beyond the rack.

Yet it’s the access to human knowledge that Nordstrom is particularly pushing with this concept. The company knows it, or its competitors, can’t match face-to-face personalised expertise on an ecommerce platform. Online look-books and inspirational content may work to a degree, while dozens of companies are experimenting with heavily optimised customer data, but this can never be a match for free consultations, which also happen to make a consumer feel very special indeed.

And if you’re not the type of person comfortable with customised clothing picks, or shopping in store, you’ll at least be able to pick them up at Nordstrom Local and get customised tailoring to perfect your own chosen look. For free.

Bespoke tailoring at Nordstrom Local.

There’s also a logical paradox for a standard customer seeing this Nordstrom Local for the first time. On first glance, many might be tempted to criticise it as a concept built with the LA customer in mind. Beverly Hills, one of the country’s most affluent cities, is just a few streets away. The store’s many options aren’t currently expected nor even demanded elsewhere; everything present at the Melrose Place unit is reflective of the culture and demands of the higher-end customer you’d expect to find in the Hollywood Hills.

Yet its services are free and are universally beneficial to the modern customer, who really has nothing to lose by dropping into Nordstrom Local – even an in-store upsell would be tailored to them (literally, if they want it).

Sure, the Nordstrom experience may still only work in certain places – like big cities with huge captive markets to provide the correct ROI to offset the services it offers for free – but as people come to experience this level of service, it could lead to a revolution in demand. Regional customisation may only need to be cosmetic, or a case of changing something more popular in LA than, say, Tulsa: swapping the pressed juice bar for a coffee shop, or putting a lower price on same-day delivery.

Ultimately, this focus on a customer’s value of time and money is a strategy that puts Nordstrom at the heart of urban or suburban community, offering an indispensable hub that slots into place whether locals are loyal to the brand or not. The key to long-term success is in the venture’s name: to paraphrase the League of Gentlemen, it’s a local shop for local people.

What’s next for Nordstrom?

Nordstrom’s profits, while taking a hit this year due to an aggressive expansion north of the border in Canada, continue to look positive. Its Columbus Circle, NYC venture – a sort of “Nordstrom Local XL” – reflects this business confidence. In another demonstration of forward thinking, this men’s fashion concept was described by GQ as “shopping online, only in real life”.

Nordstrom's men's store in New York City.

While it may be a shock to many, this new store is Nordstrom’s first in New York City, despite getting one across the Hudson in New Jersey nearly 30 years ago. While it secured the space in 2012, it spent six years perfecting the format – and even now, it only caters to half of the city’s inhabitants (a women’s Nordstrom will follow in 2019).

But they say that good things come to those who wait. While Nordstrom might’ve sacrificed a few years’ worth of Big Apple bucks – and while its Local concept is yet to show longer-term success – its future plans look more sustainable and successful than any of its rivals, and it’s something we can’t help but applaud them for.

All it took was a constantly evolving test environment in LA to test the market to confirm its hunch: people love a seamless shopping experience.

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