Nordstrom wants a bigger share of its customers’ closets.
“We’ve been hard at work over the past year to 18 months to really establish our offer to build an assortment that covers active, athleisure, outdoor, work, dresswear, occasion and fashion orientation,” said Shea Jensen, the retailer’s executive vice president, general merchandise manager, women’s and men’s apparel.
She noted that the company uses a significant amount of analytics to help inform where it wants to place what brands and what products they deliver.
“First and foremost, our ambition is to have an incredibly relevant assortment of brands, products and categories for customers. We want to have a collection of the world’s best brands and also brands that are new and emerging and create a sense of discovery for customers in stores and online,” said Jensen.
According to Jensen, Nordstrom has 10 markets that serve “a disproportionate” amount of customers and drive a “disproportionate” amount of its volume. She noted that the retailer will try to have a compelling offer across all the life stages and across all price zones.
An example of how Nordstrom is using analytics is that it has seen an increase in plus-size women. “We’ve been hard at work reassorting our plus-size offer,” she said, adding that the Millennial population is the largest population in North America today. “We recognize an opportunity to bring to bear a lot more youthful brands to our plus-size offer.”
Creating collaborations with brands is an important way for Nordstrom to not only show great product and distinguish itself, but to tell a compelling story. For example, it recently did a collaboration with Rag & Bone where it created a New York style deli at its Manhattan flagship.
“What we want to do is bring to life really great, relevant stories for customers. That really starts with the product itself,” said Jensen.
Over the past several months Nordstrom has been creating 360-degree activations across all of its touch points to celebrate the story of the product. Last April the company supported sustainability and Earth Month by collaborating with Ganni, the Danish brand, and expanding their store offer. The monthlong pop-up featured activities and storytelling around Ganni’s key responsibility projects and brand values. Nordstrom did activations and limited and exclusive products across its top markets with special capsules.
The retailer followed that up this summer with a Free People activation, celebrating the summer that everyone had lost and “re-wardrobing for summer.” That featured dresses, rompers, tops, shorts and bandeaus made for packing up and heading to the shore or beach, available at the New York flagship, online and 10 select stores.
“These activations also speak to the diversification of brands,” said Jensen. “You’ve got Ganni, an up-and-coming Scandi brand; Rag & Bone, this iconic New York City contemporary brand, and Free People, arguably one of the biggest, most commercial brands today.”
Nordstrom continues to leverage the close relationships it has with its strategic partners, including leading brands like Nike and Tory Burch, global luxury partners like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and emerging brands like Good American. Jensen also sees a pent-up customer demand, particularly around occasions like travel or in-person social events.
Asked how important it is to be cutting-edge, Jensen said, “We think about it across the spectrum. If we think about New York, it certainly is one of the most iconic and important fashion cities in the world. And we want to have an incredible manifestation of our offer in that city. We have to have an assortment and offer that serves cutting-edge, the newest and latest runway fashion to what customers will wear on their day off as they’re running errands in their local neighborhoods and cities.”
In terms of satisfying customers’ needs from day to night and weekday to weekend, Jensen said: “One way of looking at it is we hope when customers walk into their closets and are thinking of what to put on, their closets are filled with Nordstrom.”
Being a store that offers discovery is paramount, and Jensen said her buyers are constantly in the market seeking out new discoveries. “I think that’s really important. We want to be a place that offers customers the world’s best, iconic brands, but also a place that offers discovery of new brands. I think that’s something that our buyers and teams work hard at every day. We scour social media, we do a lot of competitive shopping, we have our ears to the ground in the market with our partners who are bringing to life new brands. We absolutely want to be a place that not just launches and sells new brands, but also helps new brands be successful.”
Discussing some of the brands the retailer has discovered, Jensen said a few fall into its Black and Indigenous people of color brands that it has been working with over the past year. In 2021, the company will launch 17 Black-founded or designed or led brands. A few examples are the Oula Co., Oak & Acorn, Phenomenal and Renowned. “Really important here is we don’t just launch the brands, we partner very closely with the brand. We help provide new and unique relationships where we can find mutual success and help them scale and introduce them to our customer base and help them be successful in their own right as well,” she said.
Among their top brands in women’s apparel are Topshop, Open Edit, Free People, Treasure & Bond, Good American, Halogen, Caslon, Rails, Rag & Bone, Frame, L’Agence and Mother. Buzzworthy new labels for women are Ganni, Farm Rio, Simon Miller, Alix NYC, Naked Wardrobe and Levi’s.
In men’s, top brands are Faherty, All Saints, Vince, Boss, Ted Baker, BP, Open Edit, T&B, AG, Paige and Levi’s. Buzzworthy new brands for men are Fear of God Essentials, BBC, Brixton, Carhartt, Ksubi, Pendleton, Filson and Barbour.
Other noteworthy brands for women are Cotopaxi, Tonal, EleVen by Venus Williams, Fjallraven and Harper Wilde, and for men, Cotopaxi, Fjallraven, Tonal, Bombas, Vissla and RipCurl.
Jensen said it’s an exciting time in men’s apparel. “Similar to what we’ve been focused on in women’s, we’ve been trying to build an assortment that covers the entirety of the man’s closet. And that means what he would wear to work, what he would wear to a social occasion, or what he would wear on his day off, or when he’s working from home or may even wear to work out,” she said.
She noted that in men’s wear right now, Nordstrom is excited to see a return to demand for dress wear, which she said, “went almost completely dark during the pandemic as people weren’t dressing for the boardroom or for work occasions.”
She said she’s seeing a lot of men buy a suit for their first interview or an upcoming wedding, and men are thinking about a return to travel. “There’s also a macro-casualization going on as men are thinking about being more flexible with their wardrobe,” she said.
One of the strong men’s wear brands was the recent drop of the Fear of God Essentials line, which falls within the young men’s assortment. She called it “highly demanded, casual athlete-leisure street, that’s actually more street.”
In the dress area, brands such as Canali and Ted Baker have been strong, as well as Hugo Boss, “which is a great sportswear line for us.”
“We’re really focused on rounding out and having a really diverse assortment that meets the needs of guys no matter what they’re doing,” she said.
Nordstrom’s recent collaboration with Cross Colours worked out well for the retailer. “Talk about an iconic street brand and a really relevant brand,” said Jensen. It partnered with the founders and brought the brand to life on its Center Stage in New York. “It’s a great example of one of our 360-degree activations,” she said. For two weeks this summer, Nordstrom highlighted the brand’s past and present in a way that celebrated the 1990s featuring pieces worn by celebrities and consumers over the years.
The activewear category continues to be a big draw. For men, the company is doing well with Zella, Nike, Vuori, The North Face, Outdoor Research, L.L. Bean and Billabong.
Women’s activewear, lingerie, and underwear brands that are performing well are Zella, Nike, Sweaty Betty, Alo, Skimms, Natori, True & Co., Commando, Barefoot Dreams and BP.
In discussing whether women are maintaining their casual lifestyle or starting to dress up again, Jensen believes both are relevant. “Versatility is going to be key. We’ve seen the pent-up demand for travel occasion and work occasion or social occasion, like a wedding. We’re definitely celebrating going out,” she said. She said there’s a propensity toward bright bold colors and prints. “We believe versatility is here to stay. Women have their choice. They might want to throw on a jogger and short-sleeved T-shirt one day to work from home, but maybe they’re going to get dressed up and wear a dress that night for a date. We aim to serve her across her closet,” said Jensen.
The retailer also carries a mix of European and American designers in the ready-to-wear space, as well as other international brands such as Farm Rio out of Brazil. “We just want the brands that matter the most to customers and have the most exciting content and stories to tell,” she said.
According to Jensen, each store is merchandised differently and has a different footprint. “We really do believe department store managers and local store managers are going to know best what will resonate with their customers. We have visual terms out in all the stores as well. We definitely convey product intent and knowledge about brands, but it’s really up to them to bring it to life in a really compelling way that will resonate with their local customers,” she said.
Sustainability continues to be a growing concern for Nordstrom’s customers. The company has pledged that 15 percent of its offer will be sustainably sourced by 2025. It is partnering with brands that can source more sustainable products, can bring to life the story around their product and what makes it special and unique and their sustainability efforts. Among the sustainable offerings are Nordstrom-made products. “A lot of our denim brands are doing a lot of exciting things with water preservation and biodegradable fabrics,” she said. Ganni, as well as other Scandinavian brands, are sustainably sourced.
Jensen said the retailer’s Black-owned and led businesses are highlighted on the web and in-store. The company has navigational tools to sort, filter and show them. As part of the Center Stage activation during Black History Month in February (and March), Nordstrom featured eight Black-founded and Black-owned companies from across the U.S., spanning men’s and women’s apparel, beauty, accessories and footwear.
“We’re super excited about our partnership with Asos. We’ve been a long-term partner with Topshop and Topman, which Asos recently acquired. This is going to be a real pinnacle example of how we partner in new and unique ways with the world’s best-known brands,” said Jensen. It will be launched later in the fall with a multichannel showcase. It will have Asos products in a few stores and online. “Then we’ll continue to build from there,” she said.
There’s no question that occasion dressing is having a moment now, as people come out of hibernation.
“I think what we’ve seen has been a real big return to occasion. The return to travel, to work and to the office. A lot of parties and weddings are happening.” She said when she thinks about the back half of the year, she’s eager to hear from customers about what they have planned. “The athleisure focus that happened during the pandemic with everyone working from home and wanting to feel comfortable, it was a very real thing, but we don’t think it was limited to the pandemic. We think that’s something that’s lasting.”
Key to the Nordstrom philosophy is customer service. Jensen said the retailer offers free basic alterations and personal styling, both in store and online. They have complimentary personal stylists available across the fleet of stores and online. “They can rework your entire closet or dress you for a simple event,” she said.
Further, she said, Nordstrom has created a suite of digital styling tools where the company can curate an assortment and zip it to a customer’s phone, and show what’s new from their favorite brands. “Increasingly it’s happening more and more digitally,” she said. The company continues to lead with a digital-first mindset.
Asked whether Millennial customers are more apt to shop online or in-store, she said, “Customers shop when, where and for whatever they want. There’s a lot of discovery happening online. If people have down time, the experience of getting back to stores is coming back. There’s no linear journey anymore. Our 360-degree activations are a good example of how we want to weave our stories across all touch points. There’s consistency, inspiration, discovery and connection.”