Why Nordstrom will survive the Covid-19 retail slaughterhouse


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Macy’s recently announced that they are closing 45 locations, part of a three-year plan that will shutter 125 in total. Macy’s joins many other retailers feeling the pain of Covid-19. In fact, the pandemic simply fast-forwarded the inevitable for large retailers who have been flailing over the past few years. Unable to keep up with Amazon, drop shippers from China, and changing shopping behaviors, the likes of Gap, JC Penny, J. Crew, Sears, and many, many more retailers are closing locations, filing for bankruptcy, and – devastatingly – laying off thousands of workers.

While not immune to the suffering in 2020, Nordstrom has only closed 16 locations and continues to sustain the remaining 100. One of the brands most associated with excellence in customer experience is sure to survive these troubling times.

Let me tell you why.

I’m in need of a new headshot for my bio. I took a look in my closet, and, other than the fact that I haven’t warn trousers with fasteners in almost a year, I also don’t have anything that really works for a photoshoot in 2021. My go-to for professional clothing has always been Nordstrom. I bought my first business suit there (perhaps also my last), and their personal shopping and tailoring services have always been best in class.

So off I went to Nordstrom.com to purchase a couple of photo-ready outfits. Because of Covid, (isn’t everything bad because of Covid?) the retailer is shipping items separately through several services, trying to minimize the delivery delays that are rampant. My first item arrived in the mail within 5 business days.

Much to my surprise, the item, which was supposed to be a pair of jeans, ended up being an extra-large, men’s hoody. I looked the hoody up on the site, and it cost four times what I had spent on the jeans. Not only did I get the wrong item, but some poor guy shelled out a lot of money for a hoodie that never came – did he get my jeans? That could be a meet-cute storyline in a romantic comedy.

I couldn’t go through the return process online because I wasn’t really returning the jeans, but rather an item I had never ordered. Thus, I had to call the call center. In case you don’t know me very well, I hate calling the call center of any company. It is literally my least favorite thing to do in the world of commerce. But, with a heavy sigh, call I did, and here is why Nordstrom continues to thrive even in the hardest times:

Clear, instructive IVR

Of course, the goal with an IVR is to contain the call and not let it get to a rep, but what the IVR actually says is often a hiccup point for businesses. This one gave me suggestions on where I might find what I need online, but didn’t pester me with annoying music or ads.

Tip for improvement: add a post-call survey so that I can give immediate feedback about my experience. Bonus points if you actually apply speech and text analytics to the survey results so that you can mine this data for CX improvement opportunities.

Minimal wait time

I was prepared for a Covid-level wait time, but Tim patched in within three minutes, ready to help me.

Tip for improvement: offer call-back assist. I can leave my number and a rep can call me when my place in the queue is up. To be fair, Nordstrom might have call-back assist with business rules in place to have it kick in if the wait time is longer than 10 minutes.

Friendly, helpful representative

Tim was calm, clear, patient, and evidently empowered to help me. He apologized for the mix-up and gave me clear instructions on how to proceed. This is no small feat for a company the size of Nordstrom. I could hear Tim’s dog in the background, so I know he is a recently transitioned work-from-home representative. The massive undertaking to move hundreds of reps to work from home must have been terrifying to a company that’s very brand is associated with excellent customer service. Tim clearly had all he needed to do his job effectively from home.

Tip for improvement: Give Tim a raise and make him a mentor to all newly hired reps.

Free shipping on my return, with pick-up at my front door

This statement speaks for itself. Thanks to Zappos, customers expect free shipping both ways and an easy return process. The sticker was already included in my packaging, and I was able to reuse the original envelope because of a secondary seal. Environmentally friendly, on top of everything else!

Tip for improvement: Hard to think of one – perhaps move to plastic-free packaging?

An expedited shipment of my jeans

Can’t wait to get them in the mail!

Tip for improvement: analyze the frequency of faulty picking and packing processes. I’m guessing this call and return cost Nordstrom in the range of $30-40. Luckily because of the great experience, it didn’t cost them my loyalty.

Generally, I prefer to shop in person because I often have to try on several sizes to get the right fit. As I also mentioned above, the staff at Nordstrom are trained to deliver excellent service on the floor. Their store ambiance is luxury-meets-accessibility, and the buyers and merchandizers seem to intuit my style.

Nordstrom has not only mastered the in-store experience, but it has clearly expanded its commitment to excellence across all of its channels. This is a company that deserves to stick around long past the pandemic.

Anne Cramer
CX University
I'm a 20+ year veteran of customer experience strategy and implementation. Expert in customer journey mapping and management, leveraging voice of customer with data to tell compelling stories and influence strategic decision making. I also have expertise in human centered design and employee experience.


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