Hey Retailers! Nordstrom’s Customer Service Problems Are Yours Too
By Bob Phibbs
I’m a Nordstrom shopper. Have been since I worked at South Coast Plaza in Southern California thirty years ago.
I've never used their personal shoppers. I’ve never gotten flowers from an associate as a thank you. I’ve never had someone go out of their way to pick up a shirt for me the next day.
But I have come to trust their curated selection of brands so much that anytime I’m speaking where they are, I’ve gone out of my way to visit one.
Three weeks ago I stopped at their flagship store in Seattle. As I was looking around a designer collection, two employees were busy talking to each other while another was checking their smartphone.
I found one employee, Jim, who was best-of-class and because of his excellent customer service and retail sales skills, I purchased several items.
If I hadn't have found him, I wouldn't have bought anything.
Why this is relevant…
Last week Nordstrom posted their earnings and revealed sales in stores slid 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The AP reported fourth-quarter profit fell nearly 6 percent.
Bidnessreported that, “The decline marks the third consecutive quarter of falling sales in its stores opened for one year. A recent trend towards online purchases, highlighted particularly during the 2013 holiday season, suggests that growing online sales are cannibalizing sales in physical stores.”
For that reason, Nordstrom will be allocating 30 percent of its cap expenditures on technology, up from 20 percent in previous years.
At the same time, Amazon, or as Scott Galloway, an NYU professor, calls them the Tony Soprano of e-commerce, is looking to partner with designers and other retailers to feature their brands on Amazon. This raises the specter of Amazon learning even more about what attracts people to those brands.
Already, customers search Amazon ahead of Google. With more brands being sold on Amazon, where does a department store and their customer service fit into that?
Fortune Magazinenoted, "The e-commerce behemoth may be gobbling up brick and mortar businesses left and right, but Amazon.com's customer-centric culture and super-convenience has won the company millions of shoppers worldwide."
And that leads me back to Nordstrom and my experience as a customer in their store.
Going more into technology to me, in that store, seems to mean throwing in the white flag on managing employees.
I’ll admit, I also shop digital as I now live about 3 hours from the closest Nordstrom. But when I do make the journey, I expect every employee to be as great as Jim in Seattle.
In fact, now that I think of it, when I walked into another Nordstrom a few months ago, I was greeted by a young guy who asked, “Can I help you?” When I said no, he retreated back to the castle – er, the counter, just like I teach every retailer NOT to do.
Later, when I came across a nice shirt, a young saleswoman came over and engaged me with pleasant conversation that ended with her encouraging me to hold it up in front of a mirror. As I turned to admire the shirt, I overheard the young man say under his breath, “He was MY customer.”
Oh, for gosh sakes.
She apologized to him and said that no one was helping me and went back to her department.
I would suggest what made Nordstrom great, legendary customer service, is in danger - clearly evident on the sales floor.
And in fact, what made many bricks and mortar retailers successful, created passionate customers and built an empire are in danger as well.
Here’s the point if you aren’t Nordstrom… and even if you are…
There are tectonic changes going on in retail right now. With competitors coming at you from all over the world – literally - you have to be even better with those who actually show up in your brick and mortar stores.
You don’t have the luxury of having a bad day. Neither do your employees.
Unless you commit to seeing the shopping experience from your customers’ viewpoint across all shopping paths, you are bound to be missing important feedback which you could take action on.
And the easiest place to view that is standing on your sales floor right now.
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