I’ve shopped at Nordstrom since Greg and I moved to the US sixteen years ago, becoming a diehard fan of the department store. For myself, but also for my clients, who cover a wide range of body types, ages, preferences and lifestyles. Despite this diverse set of needs, we always end up at Nordstrom for something, be it a season’s worth of refreshers, or a single pair of knee-highs. Department stores are extremely handy to have on your shopping route, and I’m grateful that Nordstrom is on mine.
Nordstrom operates in a new retail reality that’s pretty mind-blowing. Many department stores have gone away. Online shopping has taken over the industry. Social media is driving the conversation, not merely following it. Consignment and thrift stores are gaining momentum. Personalized shopping packages are popular, and it’s possible to rent your wardrobe instead of owning it.
Nordstrom isn’t immune to all of this upheaval, and for much of the last decade the company has seemed on a mission to become more attractive to an audience hungry for budget fast fashion. No doubt feeling pressure from fast fashion retailers and fearing a declining relevance as the attention shifted from those with disposable income, to those with social media influence. They did so with pop-up stores and lines from social media influencers, but most importantly, through a change in their assortment. A shift to new brands, and new house brands at lower price points.
I’m all for moving with the times and expanding Nordstrom’s target market, but these changes came at the cost of the quality we were accustomed to seeing in Nordstrom merchandise. There just aren’t as many brands at Nordstrom who provide what used to be their staple diet: A cut-above-the-rest product that is value driven, reliably good, and fairly unique. And there are far more items where the fit is problematic, the fabric inferior, and the construction sub-par. Where the guts and the flair are taken out of an item so it can be sold at a lower price.
The biggest casualty has been stellar, value driven Nordstrom house brands like Classiques Entier, Sejour and Valette, with their gorgeous fabrics, thoughtful design and precision craftsmanship. Silhouettes were interesting, items oozed hanger appeal, and fits were magical. Prices weren’t budget, but they weren’t designer either, and you got what you paid for. My clients and I could rely on tried and tested Nordstrom house brands to provide important wardrobe building blocks and fill tricky wardrobe holes. We were prepared to pay more for the real value of a better product.
What I have also seen, alongside the shift to more disposable fashion at the low end, is a larger assortment of high price point designer wear. Of course, Nordstrom has always sold luxury, high status, exclusive brands and designers. But now it seems to be focussed on two ends of the fashion spectrum, with less in between for the value-driven customers who I think were Nordstrom’s loyal core.
Now, if these shifts were successful I would have mourned the loss of the brands I loved, but I would have also respected Nordstrom’s business decision. The thing is, I don’t think they have been successful. Nordstrom has been struggling to make sales targets. Markdowns are far more frequent, and stores have closed. In Seattle there are often more sales assistants than customers on the floor.
So I’m left wondering about the wisdom of following the rest of the industry to a world of polarized price points. Budget fashion shoppers can get more, better fast fashion at any one of the number of retailers who do this so well. Shoppers looking for designer wear can go to more exclusive stores than Nordstrom. What made Nordstrom magical was the opportunity to get that value-driven core merchandise, with SOME fast fashion and SOME exclusive items to spice things up. You could go to Classiques Entier then shop the inexpensive B.P. department, and end up at Chanel on the ground floor.
Nordstrom, please stop chasing a customer who isn’t interested in you. Please bring your focus back to what you did so well — the product that lies between the extremes. Your loyal customers will return because these items were beautifully made, looked really good, and lasted over time. They were the reliable items we relied on Nordstrom to provide, season after season, year after year.