“There was a period of time for a lot of retailers like us when we were managing the dot-com and store businesses separately, with different teams and organizations. Across the company, in technology, accounting, finance, the supply chain, HR, we needed to transform our thinking,” said Jamie. “The real win would come from having a really integrated approach both online and in stores, for the merchandise, the messaging and all service touch points for our customers, be it buy online, pick up in stores, styling, alterations or returns.”
Not many executives in retailing have as much experience across selling channels as Jamie Nordstrom, the cousin of brothers Erik and Pete Nordstrom, respectively Nordstrom Inc.’s chief executive officer and president/chief brand officer.
Jamie began his career in 1986 working in the stockroom of Nordstrom’s Bellevue, Wash. store, worked in sales in shoes through high school and college, held positions in merchandise management, store management and buying, and from 2005 to 2014, was president of nordstrom.com when the dot-com revenue grew from $250 million to over $1.6 billion. Dot-com continues to grow, accounting for $5.7 billion, or 55 percent, of Nordstrom’s $10.33 billion in total sales last year, when the business was severely impacted by the pandemic, and about $5 billion, or 33 percent, of Nordstrom’s total sales of $15.13 billion in 2019.
Jamie was the vision behind the 2011 Nordstrom acquisition of the HauteLook flash sale website, and in 2014 he led the launch of nordstromrack.com. As president of the Nordstrom’s department stores, he has been involved in several openings, notably the first international store in Calgary, Canada, and the Manhattan flagship, as well as closing 16 department stores in a downsizing completed last year.
Given all that, it’s not surprising what he seems most proud of — initiatives to create more seamless customer experiences, elevated services and greater conveniences.
He explained that by integrating the store and online merchandising teams for a companywide “single view” of inventory, the salespeople and customers get access to nearly all Nordstrom merchandise “anywhere and anytime.”
“It’s about getting our teams really focused on Nordstrom customers as opposed to the store customer or the internet customer,” said Jamie. “It’s one customer. Nobody exclusively shops in stores or online. More than 50 percent of customers who shop in store will have started their shopping journey online with us, and similarly a significant number of customers who buy from us online started their journey by seeing a product in-store.”
Nordstrom Inc.’s three-year “Closer to You” agenda — unveiled last February to media and the investor community — calls for dramatically widening dot-com offerings from 300,000 skus to 1.5 million, growing the Rack off-price business by layering in products with lower prices, and advancing the three-year-old market strategy linking and leveraging store, distribution and digital assets, to provide greater services and conveniences at the local level with the intent of triggering deeper engagements by shoppers.
“Buy online, pick up in stores is one of the fastest growing parts of the company’s business,” said Jamie. “Having a big selection of merchandise ready for next-day pickup at local stores, using all the inventory available in that market, be it from local stores or from online, requires a lot of people to make that work.”
Thanks to the market strategy, in each of Nordstrom’s top 20 markets, four times more inventory is available for next-day pickup of a nordstrom.com order at the most convenient, Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack or Nordstrom Local store.
“We have nearly 350 physical locations to supplement our digital capabilities,” said Jamie. “In the Los Angeles market alone, we have 16 stores with inventory available for next-day pickup at the store. A lot of people for whatever reason don’t want merchandise delivered where they live. They actually prefer picking it up.”
Asked how far the market strategy has progressed, he answered, “I still think we are in the first or second inning on how to deliver on customers’ increasingly high expectations. It’s a never-ending cycle of listening to what the customer is asking for and getting the team to deliver on that demand.
“Good service is not the absence of bad service,” Jamie continued. “Good service is often invisible. You don’t notice it. When we execute well the customer says, ‘that is just great.’ They don’t exactly know why we have been able to make it great. They don’t know all the tech and the people behind the scenes that deliver on this.”
He draws an analogy of being in a top restaurant. “You get your water, and then your water is full again, as opposed to somebody coming up and saying ‘would you want more water?’ We want to be in the place where your glass is always full. Perhaps you can’t quite identify why the service is great. You just know that at the end of your meal, the experience has been wonderful.”
Food and beverage is something Nordstrom executives know a lot about, though the retailer’s reputation is in fashion, footwear and service.
“Food and beverage has been part of our offer for 40 years,” Jamie said. “It’s in every Nordstrom department store and over the last 10 years, more bars have been brought in. Cocktail lounges have been a real win. Food and beverage is one of the most pure forms of service. We are really proud of our restaurants.”
According to Jamie, Nordstrom’s most successful stores are those with the most successful food and beverage operations.
“Absolutely, the restaurants are destinations in themselves,” he said. “They have to be. The restaurant has to be a great restaurant. If we provide that, the customer will come in more often and probably stay in the store longer.”
Wolf, the restaurant in the Manhattan flagship, is a collaboration with chef Ethan Stowell and has a cuisine of Italian-inspired fare with a Pacific Northwest twist. “It’s a great example of us trying something new,” Jamie said. “We’ve got a number of stores with multiple restaurants, and seven or eight different restaurant concepts across the fleet.”
In a broad sense, service is also about exposing customers to products other than those they may have come to the store or the website for, and helping them locate items they may have trouble finding. In the last 18 months or so, Nordstrom, as Jamie said, has been “unleashing the sales team through new tools and social media to engage with customers to create excitement about new styles and find something cool they didn’t know they had to have. We are constantly looking at leveraging our sales team, our supply chain and our vendors to give customers more choices.”
In Q1, there was progress in expanding personalization by providing tools to more salespeople and stylists to offer customers highly relevant recommendations, both in-store and digitally, and to chat with them. On the stylist chat, customers can ask a style question or get personalized outfit recommendations. More than 50 percent of Nordstrom’s salespeople are now utilizing these remote styling tools, a 10-point increase compared to the quarter before.
Nordstrom’s clienteling tools provide associates with stored information to keep track of what customers are asking for and buying. They also have “style boards” so associates can arrange outfits that can be viewed digitally on a cell phone. “They’re effective tools for trying to replicate the in-store experience. Think of it as a digital equivalent of a dressing room,” said Jamie. “It’s a collaborative experience.”
In 2020, all salespeople were enabled to select looks and sell on social media platforms. Customers can also schedule an in-store styling or alterations appointment or a virtual styling appointment on nordstrom.com.
Over the past year, Nordstrom has been livestreaming. “We’re learning a lot about that,” said Jamie. “We are in the very early stages of what that can mean for our business. Our best salespeople and influencers are doing livestreaming. We leverage influencers to drive engagement through social media. We’ll put our salespeople against anyone else’s. When we give our folks the right tools and get out of their way and let them find ways to use their tools, they will find ways to engage.
“For as long as I have been around, there’s been this focus on having good people and the right amount of them,” said Jamie, when asked what he believes makes his family’s company distinctive.
“It starts with an available and capable salesperson, especially these days. We all have experienced being in a store that’s understaffed. We think about what great service looks like. It’s personal attention, having that salesperson who has the time to listen to what you’re asking for, and following through on it. Individualized one-to-one service makes a big difference.”
Through many surveys conducted by the company, “We have heard over and over again that shoppers want a salesperson who knows them, who can anticipate their needs, who can make shopping easier for them. You’ve got to have enough people to do that. We have 120 years experience knowing how much staffing we need. It ebbs and flows. It’s an art and a science,” largely revolving around the trends in sales volume and traffic and future expectations on business.
Asked whether Nordstrom spends more than its competitors on manning its stores, Jamie said, “I don’t know what others spend but to get the right quality talent, you’ve got to make sure you have effective compensation. We’ve had primarily a commissions-based organization for a long time. The value of that is our people think of it as their own business, that it’s their name on the door.”
He said management encourages sales associates to “find solutions, take care of the customer. If you do that, you will be very successful having a good career here. It’s less about paying more and more about enabling people so they can make more money.”
With the nation’s labor shortage, “It’s a challenge out there, and it’s no different for us. But we’ve got a pretty good story to tell as an employer. We get our fair share of applicants. It’s been challenging at times given the last year but we are pretty happy with the talent we are getting. We’ve got make sure our standards are high in our people serving our customers.”