Sunday, January 23, 2011

NORDSTROM: Loyal Customers, Excellent Customer Service, and Underwhelming Interior Design

Nordstrom. It's a very popular American department store chain. The stores are often busy and profitable. The customer service is considered to be excellent. Some stores include piano players (a lovely idea that is mostly being phased out).  Nordstrom is considered to be a 'prestigious brand', as per this article: Prestige Article

Nordstrom's roster of designers include some expensive top-of-the-line women's designers in a department called 'Collectors'. Think Balmain, Akris, Chanel, Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, and so on. Men's designers at some flagship Nordstrom stores include Lanvin, Marni, Givenchy, Armani Collezioni, and others. Leathergoods at some locations include Valentino, Gucci, Prada, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, YSL, and others.

Nordstrom's somewhat underwhelming interiors
Despite the increasingly upscale range of Nordstrom's merchandise, I find their store interiors to be average, at best. Nordstrom aims to provide merchandise in an uncluttered, open atmosphere. More recently, they have included some designer shop-in-store concepts, starting with their Topanga store in suburban Los Angeles (including shops for Valentino, Chanel, Gucci, Dior, and others). The floor tiles in walkways, however, tend to be an ordinary beige variety, while ceilings are square tiled and a bit dated (with exceptions for marble flooring and smooth ceilings in designer areas at selected stores). 

I recently attended their South Coast Plaza store in Costa Mesa, California, which has the highest revenues of any Nordstrom store (sales of over $180 million at 235,000 square feet).  It was busy and had lots of shoes. And a designer 'Collectors' department. Despite the upscale offerings and store popularity, I was left feeling that Nordstrom could provide more 'punch' to the store's interior. The ceilings are dated square panels (like at the local library), and there are no vendor handbag shops. Just some bags in a bags department (Though some very expensive bags from various designers). I love the piano player by the atrium/escalators. But recently, piano players are unfortunately being phased out of most Nordstrom stores in lieu of recorded music, reducing Nordstrom's already challenged 'sense of place'.

Some experts believe that a shopping environment is almost as important as a store's merchandise. Luxury goods can be an emotional purchase, and presentation can affect sales. Awesome clothing displayed in a Wal-Mart or a Dollar Store environment will likely impress less than in a well-tailored retail environment.  

September 2010. True story:  
Nordstrom, Fashion Valley Shopping Centre San Diego, men's department: 
Me: "Is Nordstrom planning on renovating this store".
Sales Lady: "We're almost done"
Me: "What!?"
Sales Lady "Yeah, they totally moved things around in here. This area used to be cosmetics"
Me: "Wow." [chuckling at the 1980's square-tile ceiling, average beige-tile floors, and boring carpeting]

Don't get me wrong. I like Nordstrom, and I'm loving their increasingly designer-oriented strategy. However, I feel that Nordstrom could benefit from a more 'glamorous', updated sense of place to go along with their upscaling merchandising strategy. I'm not sure exactly what this should entail, but I'd go to Printemps' department store in Paris and make up a cheat-sheet of what a good store interior can look like. I'd start cheating here: Printemps Paris

Though sales are often less at Bloomingdale's than Nordstrom, I still prefer Bloomingdale's store interiors. Here are a couple of my favorite Bloomies interior photos: 
Bloomingdale's Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Westfield San Francisco Centre


Christina Simpson said...

I agree with this article. Nordstrom should jazz up their interiors. I love the shoes though!

Steve Berke said...

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