Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s recent online discussions. Each business morning on RetailWire.com, retail industry execs get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a “BrainTrust” panel of retail industry experts.
Nordstrom appears to have achieved the link across selling channels that most retailers aspire to, according to reports. The department store chain manages inventories at its store and its web site as one entity. If a shopper is looking for a particular item online and it is not in stock in the warehouse, Nordstrom will still be able to fill the order pulling from store stock.
The same is true for in-store shopping where an item out-of-stock at a particular location does not mean the consumer is out of luck. Nordstrom has the ability to either grab the item from another store or from its web site. Store employees have the inventory information right in front of them in stores so they are able to assist the shopper in making the purchase.
Jamie Nordstrom, EVP of Nordstrom and President of Nordstrom Direct, told The New York Times that the company’s approach has driven “some pretty meaningful results.”
Nordstrom is unique in its approach to managing inventory, according to Adrianne Shapira, an analyst at Goldman Sachs.”I don’t see anyone going to the length they are,” she told The New York Times. Nordstrom, which just launched a revamp of its web site on Saturday, has been busy perfecting what it is doing online for two years. The coordination of online and offline was step number one, according to Jamie Nordstrom.
Nordstrom’s latest changes to its website include adding editorial and social components. (See the Conversation tab on Nordstrom.com.)
The site revamp, according to Nordstrom, provides his company with a point of difference from the competition.
“There’s not been a tremendous amount of innovation in online apparel retailing, us included,” he told The Seattle Times. “If you look at most of our competitors’ web sites, they all look the same, which is fine.”
According to Nordstrom, this latest step is just that, a step. “There is no finish line on this,” he told The Seattle Times. Every time we launch a new function, the next day we have 10 more ideas. This is what retailing is about for the next 10 years.”
The BrainTrust panel applauded Nordstrom’s efforts to optimize the customer experience, and agree that execution is an integral part of Nordstrom’s store success.
“Nordstrom taking important steps to make shopping the 360 experience it can become,” said Anne Bieler, Senior Associate, Packaging & Technology Integrated Solutions. “Integration of all the consumer touch points is essential — and about time! Not surprising Nordstrom is ahead here. With all the technology ‘out there,’ it’s hard for shoppers to understand why simple things like inventory info takes extra time when it should be ‘right there.’”
Other panelists find Nordstrom’s attention to detail is on point, although distinguishing itself from others could prove challenging. “They’ve touched all the key bases with solid applications of multi-channel and social marketing,” noted Doug Stephens, President, Retail Prophet. “As far as competitive distance, I don’t think technology in itself is a competitive show stopper. It’s too easily replicated. What will distinguish them is how they use and manage the technology to delight their customers. That’s the tricky part.”
“Nordstrom excels at execution, and flawless execution is the key to capturing the potential of fully integrating stores with e-commerce.,” said Ted Hurlbut, Principal, Hurlbut & Associates. “Still, my belief has long been that unless you have inventory turnover issues at retail, at a certain e-commerce volume level it’s more efficient and effective to fulfill e-commerce orders centrally.”
One analyst hails Nordstrom’s efforts as a significant advance in the Convergence of Online, Mobile and Bricks-and-mortar (COMB.) “I’m pretty certain that some years from now, large numbers of retailers WILL include mobile in what Nordstrom is doing, and it won’t be simply about inventory management, as an adjunct to the selling proposition, but using a powerful personal selling assistant (electronic) with this inventory management as one fundamental component,” said Herb Sorensen, ScientificAdvistor, TNS Global Retail & Shopper Practice.