Erik Nordstrom discusses serving customers on their terms

Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

Analysts and others may ask about the numbers for Nordstrom’s digital and store sales. But Erik Nordstrom, co-president, said he continues to learn that things don’t really work that way.

More than half of Nordstrom sales have an online component and over a one-third of its online sales involve a store experience.

“I’ve yet to have a customer use the word ‘channel’ with me,” he said. “They don’t do that. Those lines are completely blurred.” Customers go back and forth, looking for a singular experience. But more than half of Nordstrom sales do have an online component and over a one-third of its online sales involve a store experience.

Looking back at the recent holiday season, what stood out was the way shopping has continued to change overall. And Nordstrom, with expanding services like buy online, pick up in store and same-day/expedited delivery, is changing along with it.

Nordstrom sat down with NBC News correspondent Jo Ling Kent Tuesday at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show. During the talk, he spoke about the New York flagship that opened last year. “All the changes in our business keep it interesting,” he said. “But we still have a passion for the store. And to be able to come to the greatest city in the world, the best retail city in the world, we have to bring our A game, our best effort. It’s just been a lot of fun.”

Manhattan was Nordstrom’s biggest online market to begin with, he said, and any store opening typically coincides with an online bump; the interplay of the two was part of the business case for the store.

But he noted that the reason for having a physical store has changed a lot. Stores need to be more experiential, he said, and not just about picking up an item. The new location is the most experiential store Nordstrom has. There is, for example, a bar in the main shoe department.

He quips that it helps sell things, but it’s the overall “different vibe” that stands out as customers sit down to try on a shoe, drink in hand. “People are smiling,” he said. “Strangers are talking to each other. We think a lot about shoes. I don’t know why it took us so long to put drinking and shoes together, but it’s a great combination.”

Nordstrom continues to be a place of discovery, whether online or in store. The year 2018 was the year of Los Angeles as it expanded its local offerings, and 2019, the year of New York. But 2020 will be less about particular markets, and more about increasing engagement with customers and leveraging inventory.

It’s been a season of learning, to be certain, culminating in his top advice for those present: to continue being humble and curious throughout.

Just prior to the session, National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay helmed the gavel pass from outgoing Chairman of the NRF Board of Directors Chris Baldwin, chairman and CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club, to incoming Chair Mike George, president and CEO of Qurate Retail, Inc.

In recent days, George said, he’s been reminded why he loves what he does — and why all the hard work and pain of retail is worth it: “Because we’ve been given this precious gift, this gift to be able to uplift and inspire millions of consumers and millions of team members every single day,” he said. “When we get it right, we make a difference in their lives. That is a precious opportunity to be savored.”

He and Shay also honored and thanked Baldwin as he transitions from the role leaving NRF — and its influence — stronger than ever before.

“One of the things I’m most proud of over the past two years is the way NRF has taken back the story of retail,” Baldwin said. “We’ve worked aggressively to give an accurate picture of our industry, an industry that’s healthy, that’s vibrant, and that’s growing. It’s been an absolute privilege to serve in this role.”

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