#NRF2020: Every retailer has to be a tech company, says Nordstrom

The co-president of US luxury department store Nordstrom said traditional retailers with legacy systems need a clear vision and leadership to navigate the digital retail landscape.

Erik Nordstrom was speaking at NRF 2020 in NYC this week. Taking to the keynote stage on the final day of the conference, he said: “Every retailer has to be a technology company.”

But Nordstrom said this has been challenging for his business: “It’s not as simple as adding a piece of technology, companies like ours have been around for a while.”

He pointed to the retailer’s legacy technology systems which have stood in the way of digital progress. He said it’s easy for companies to be enamoured with launching new digital features, but retailers need to put themselves in the shoes of their customers to see how they might resonate.

He said over half of Nordstrom’s store sales involve an online journey “somewhere in the process”, while a third of online sales involve a store experience. He said all retailers keep getting asked about these digital sales versus store sales, but the “reality is customers just don’t operate in that way”.

“I’ve yet to have a customer use the word ‘channel’ with me – those lines are completely blurred,” he explained. “The challenge is to align ourselves and define what success is for us and what success if for our customer.”

Click & collect and services

Nordstrom has made significant changes to its store strategy in recent years launching a number of smaller format Nordstrom Local stores in NYC and Los Angeles which offer customers a physical location to pick up online orders, as well as services such as alterations and tailoring.

He said click & collect is a growing part of the business, but leads to challenges when it comes to the roles of its store staff. Nordstrom said part of his job is to get his employees and store managers “fired up” by “stoking the entrepreneurial flames” to empower them to serve customers using their own judgement. While this entrepreneurial attitude is still important, now many of the stores are also fulfilment centres this part of the business requires more discipline and best practice using data.

The retailer also opened a flagship women’s store in midtown NYC late last year, which Nordstrom said is the most experiential store in its 350-plus estate and is resonating well with consumers.

“We still have a passion for a store and to come to the greatest city in the world – the best retail city in the word – we have to bring our A-game.”

The seven-floor store is across the road from the flagship men’s store which opened the previous year. The space is playful and allows brands to experiment and introduce interesting store design. There is also a slick cocktail bar in its shoe department downstairs which Nordstrom admitted he didn’t know why it took so long for the retailer to introduce.