My first experience with Nordstrom was in San Francisco in 1989. They were coming to the city and they were the competition. I was a trainee at Macy’s and the entire retail community was running scared.
Nordstrom was coming.
And all of a sudden it seemed, we needed to pay attention to customer service. Having grown up in a retail environment—my father owned a beer and wine store—I thought this was odd; that a giant like Macy’s, that had been operating in San Francisco since 1947, was concerned about some small chain from Seattle.
As I quickly learned, Nordstrom’s legendary reputation for bullet-proof customer service had reached mythological proportions. This is the first time I heard the story of the “return” of snow tires from a customer when Nordstrom surely did not carry snow tires.
The customer is always right. It was that simple.
I came to love the Nordstrom at San Francisco Centre for a couple of reasons. Their men’s department bar became the hangout of choice for my Macy’s training class colleagues—it was a great place to get away from our home turf and gossip. And they carried my sizes. They offered a selection of non-traditional sizes for men and I found, for the first time, that I had choices when it came to clothing. Macy’s did not carry big and tall sizes.
For a kid who wanted to be a buyer, I needed to look the part. Nordstrom’s suit department staff and tailors helped me make my career at Macy’s. How could I not love them for that?
Innovative Services: The store offers same-day delivery & 24/7 click & collect service.
Coming to New York
When Nordstrom announced plans to open a full-line department store in New York City, I thought, good for them; I also thought surely there is everything you could hope for in New York already and that you could get it any way you like. Good luck with that, friends. I wondered if this would be a big “so what?” moment for New Yorkers? Then the real estate news came. They would open a stand-alone men’s store prior to the Women’s and home store across the street.
Walking into their first-ever standalone men’s store (Macy’s sold their San Francisco standalone men’s store recently), you are immediately greeted, of course, by a fresh face ready to help in any way. In my case, I needed to check my carry-on bag. The associate offered to take my bag to the holding room and return the claim ticket to me as I shopped. My first stop was the coffee bar on the lower level.
Street level features fresh designer shops. Here we see Comme des Garçons PLAY.
Adidas x Gosh Rubchinskiy
What you won’t see is the traditional department set up with fragrance, skin care, etc up front. As a matter of fact, by way of a real estate quirk, the first floor is broken up by the building lobby and thus the two parts are disconnected. The 57th & Broadway entrance contains the designer floor and the 58th & Broadway entrance has fragrance, skin care, accessories, and the Levi shop.
This makes for some odd navigation—and perhaps tough choices for merchandise planners. The upper level contains a few designer shops, tailored clothing and a small bar with a view to the street—resulting in a subtly disjointed experience. The lower level is perhaps the more exciting space, as it houses Nordstrom’s super-powered shoe department. It seems strange that the most interestingly designed space is not visible from the street.
Much of the first floor presentation skews young. This is the home of the diffusion lines from Comme des Garçons, Adidas and Levi’s. I can see why they would want to send the message that they have youth-skewed collections, but does this really differentiate them? None of these are exclusive lines.
Assortment & Service
Taken as a whole, the assortment seems a bit all-over-the-place. They have covered a lot of ground—Carhartt to Louboutin—which may be a see-what-works tactic, but it feels like they are still finding their way. I respect the hand-selected nature of what I saw—it is clear the buyers didn’t just let the brands dictate the assortments. With the exception of the Louboutin shop, the merchandise feels like it’s been bought in a very Nordstrom way. They are known for tailoring their offerings to the individual markets in which they operate, so I’ll be interested to see how this store changes in the next year and then when the full line store opens across the street. I expect they will continually shape the assortments to find the right mix.
What Nordstrom consistently gets right is culture—service and thoughtful, kind people are their advantage. Beyond the Seattle-centric art and display pieces, the best import at the New York store is the staff. Long-term Nordstrom employees have been transplanted to seed the sophisticated folksiness that makes a Nordstrom shopping experience unique. Consistently across several conversations with both veterans and new employees, I found their thoughtfulness and openness refreshingly accessible. To that point, I had a moment when I actually considered a new pair of wingtips, as if I need more wingtips.
I’ll always love Nordstrom. I am rooting for them to come through the current retail upheavals. I hope they find their New York merchandising rhythm and not loose their Seattle cool. New Yorkers are tough, but I’m pretty sure Nordstrom has what it takes to stand out.
New York, New York
The central stair case (no escalators) features a life-sized tree sculpture by Seattle artist
John Grade www.johngrade.com
In keeping with the Nordstrom culture, technology is deployed with the consumer in mind. At each of the two entrances, express return spots allow customers to scan and bag items in two minutes with credit to their account almost immediately.
The first floor is clearly designed to be flexible and readily re-configurable. The warm comfortable fit rooms can be moved in future floor sets.
The denim wall is broken up by a sculpture by Seattle artist Gerard Tsutakawa.
Small collections from key vendors are scattered around the store. Carhartt shows up adjacent to Levis.
The Levi’s Tailor Shop is a demonstration space with views in from the street, that showcases tailors customizing certified vintage and new Levi’s garments.
The stair case to the lower level conveys an understated (boring?) message about what can be found below. Should the front of the shoes be pointed the other way?
The floor has no clear aisle or pathway; the layout invites you to wander and engage the merchandise. The traditional shoe displays are to the right and branded shops or displays on the left. The long room is anchored by a LED mural-sized digital array showing a variety of subtle and energetic images behind a wall of shoe displays.
The space gives you plenty of room to move around. It shows a combination of branded and category presentations. Here you see more of the emphasis on street and sneaker items backed by a collection of Seattle artists’ works.
Salvatore Ferragamo shoes I now have a crush on, but did not buy.
The lower level is home to the only Christian Louboutin men’s shoe boutique.
I did not buy these either.
Small assortments from various vendors fill the space between major departments. Order Pick Up houses buy online, package check and a variety of services and personnel.
A small coffee bar is tucked into the back corner of the floor and offers standard fare and small packaged foods.
View of the suspended tree sculpture from below. Having it in the main stair case offers an easy-to-remember navigation cue as to which side of the store you are in. This staircase covers all three levels; the second stair goes from the street to lower level only.
The upper level is an ordinary presentation of apparel, with pockets of featured displays and a few branded shops. Straight out of the elevator you are greeted with a view of the full-line store across the street.
Digital signage seems to be an afterthought here. The content is static stock images from the brand and doesn’t seem to be exclusive to Nordstrom.
Visual merchandising is low-key and may be seen as lackluster in the context of the New York fashion market, although it is very Nordstrom-y.
Nordstrom services shine. Onsite alterations include not just new purchases, but anything in your wardrobe.
Well known brands are presented in various ways from single fixture micro-collections, to feature tables to made-to-measure programs.
The Valentino shop features select pieces, comfortable seating and custom backdrops on standard fixtures.
The Calvin Klein shop is the most extravagantly decorated of all the vendor shops in the store. But in comparison with the brand’s presence in other stores—Macy’s—this is severely toned down.
The upper level bar is nicely appointed. It feels right at home in the Nordstrom fleet, but not all that special in the New York fashion landscape.