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Nordstrom Takes Stake in Gifting Site Wantful

The department store chain has taken a minority stake in the fast-growing, two-year-old online gift retailer.

Wantful delivers its "gift book" wrapped in Japanese rice paper and delivered in an embossed envelop.

Nordstrom Inc. has taken a minority stake in Wantful, a fast-growing, two-year-old online gift retailer.

It’s a move consistent with Nordstrom investments in other Web sites the last couple of years, including HauteLook, Bonobos and Sole Society, as well as in multichannel retailers Jeffrey and Peek. Though Nordstrom is already considered to be among the most advanced retailers online, the investment strategy enhances the Nordstrom experience by sharing technologies and online tools for customers and supplementing the merchandising.

The Seattle-based Nordstrom would not disclose the amount of its investment in Wantful. Ken Worzel, Nordstrom’s executive vice president for strategy and development, has been named to the Wantful board. On Monday, the partnership launched with the Nordstrom Gift Collection by Wantful, which can be found at nordstrom.com/giftcollection.

“Making it simple for customers to give the right gift has always been important to the service experience we hope to offer,” said Kirk Beardsley, vice president of e-commerce at Nordstrom. “The experience that Wantful is helping us deliver is an intuitive blend of traditional and digital media that offers customers another way to solve an age-old challenge — choosing that perfect gift for someone.”

“Nordstrom’s investment gives us the ability to bring what we do to a very large audience,” said John Poisson, founder and chief executive officer of Wantful.

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Poisson said his company was looking at other possible investors to accelerate growth but chose Nordstrom because of its reputation for customer service and for being a well-run company. “In our view, there is a lot of affinity between what our customers want and the products that their customers are interested in.”

Poisson said Wantful offers more than 4,500 products in personal care, accessories, jewelry, specialty food and wine, home decor, kitchen and outdoor products. Nordstrom will be carrying some of those products for the first time, but it was primarily an opportunity to give customers a fresh way of shopping for gifts that appealed to the company. Nordstrom does sell products from Bonobos and Sole Society online and in its stores, so it’s possible that at some point Nordstrom will advance the Wantful assortment from its current availability online to also being sold in the stores.

The Wantful site is unique. Those visiting the site answer a few questions about the person they’re buying for, like style tastes and the occasion for the gift, and then the site comes up with a customized collection or “gift book” of up to 12 gifts. It’s mailed to the person elegantly wrapped in Japanese rice paper and delivered in an embossed envelope. The book can include anywhere from three to 12 gifts, from which the person receiving the gift chooses one. “It really is about choice,” said Poisson. “Giving someone a choice is part of the fun of receiving the gift.” Gift books may also be delivered online.

Nordstrom was also attracted to Wantful because the collection of gift options could also include a donation to a charity or philanthropic cause, based on how questions are answered.

Asked which products are bestsellers, Poisson said “It’s really evenly distributed,” though he added that jewelry is a standout because it’s a hard category to buy for others and that Wantful makes it easier by providing options.

Poisson said the company was growing fast, and that after a “fantastic” holiday season, the period leading up to Mother’s Day was on par with the holiday numbers. Wantful has a team of 14 people in San Francisco and New York in merchandising, operations, support, design and engineering.