Review: Nordstrom NYC Women's Flagship
By Michal Edelman Tepper & Daniella Fischel On October 30, 2019
Nordstrom NYC Women's Flagship
After many years in planning and development, Nordstrom finally opened it’s women’s flagship in midtown Manhattan in October 2019. The new store joins the previously opened men’s flagship (opened in 2018) across the street and is complemented by two smaller Nordstrom local locations in Tribeca and the Upper East Side.
With all of the hype surrounding Nordstrom’s opening in New York City, you might think that New Yorkers had never seen a department store in their lives. At the end of the day it is still just a department store. But that being said, at the end of the day, Nordstrom really is doing something differently.
NORDSTROM NYC WOMEN'S FLAGSHIP:
Nordstrom NYC’s merchandising strategy is built around a curated selection from many different types of brands from luxury to fast fashion, from legacy to digital native. This makes the experience far less overwhelming than that of a traditional department store. But it also means that if you walk into Nordstrom thinking you will be able to browse an entire product line from an individual brand you may find yourself disappointed by the limited selection. The benefit to this strategy is that you don’t have to sort through racks of clothing to get a sense of what’s on offer. Part of that is due to the store size and layout but part is also due to the curated selection of clothing. On the other hand, this can mean that you could discover a brand you like in store but then need go online to look at the full selection. If that happens, you can always head over to the bar and grab a drink while shopping the full collection from your phone.
Nordstrom is known for being the department store that best partners with digital native and newer brands. The New York store didn’t disappoint in this regard and we were excited to be able to shop from brands that we don’t typically see in department stores such as Madewell, Something Navy, Reformation, La Ligne and PE Nation under one roof. In addition to displaying these brands in a traditional department store format, Nordstrom also has a pop-in@Nordstrom concept for slightly larger displays. Everlane was the first brand featured in this dedicated space with a larger merchandise selection and some individual branding. While the pop-in hardly felt differentiated from the rest of the store, we enjoyed being able to shop a brand like Everlane at Nordstrom. As more digital native brands consider wholesale as an essential prong of their business, Nordstrom continues to show how far ahead of its competitors it is in wooing and providing a home for these types of brands.
One of the reasons we think people have been so excited about Nordstrom’s NYC opening is because of the level of service the brand is known for. While New Yorkers have long had their pick of department stores (at least on the East Side) from Bloomingdale’s to Saks to Bergdorf to Barneys, there has always felt like a gap in the market for a high-quality department store that provides excellent customer service without the price tags. At Nordstrom the staff will treat you the same way whether you are trying on $80 Adidas sneakers or $695 Louboutin pumps.
Our experience at the store exceeded our expectations for what customer service could look like in a department store. The staff on the main floor were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about the store. When we wanted to try on some Adidas sneakers in the shoe department, the sales associate brought some additional brands as suggestions but wasn’t pushy at all when we indicated we weren’t interested. When we were fatigued by the end of the day and just wanted to browse, the staff was able to inuit this and left us to our own devices. Everyone we spoke to was excited about the new store and eager to share with us how busy it had been over the weekend, the highlights we needed to check out or their favorite donut flavor from the mochi donut store downstairs. The attention to the little things is what sets Nordstrom apart from its competitors and the NYC store is no different. We will be interested to see how this holds up over time as the excitement of being a new store wears off.
In some ways we were actually surprised by how manageable, and even small, the store felt. This maybe shouldn’t be surprising given the entire store is around 40% the size of the Bloomingdale’s flagship a couple of avenues to the east. Granted, the Nordstrom store is mainly only women’s apparel, shoes and accessories (with some children’s and home products on the lowest floor) but it has the effect of feeling like a much more manageable, curated experience. The store itself has very open sightlines which means you can essentially see everything on a floor from any given spot on that floor. In addition, Nordstrom has invested in a separate wing of the store with a custom boutique in partnership with Nike and a rotating pop-up experience that launched with Burberry. You can enter this wing from a separate entrance without ever setting foot in the “regular” shopping area of Nordstrom. These experiences feel less designed to encourage shopping and more designed to create memorable experiences that encourage social media activity.
The service Nordstrom is known for is evident throughout the place as well. By building the NYC store from scratch, Nordstrom was able to take those services and build them directly into the fabric of the store for a seamless experience. While we expect department stores to offer many of these services - including order pickup, returns and exchanges and alterations - Nordstrom is able to weave these services throughout the store to make them both convenient to use and easy to find. The concierge on the ground floor anchors these services and provides a home base from which to branch out to the rest of the store, make a quick return or check your coat and bag.
While every department store has some element of food as part of the experience (can’t shop on an empty stomach!), Nordstrom takes it a step further by integrating it directly into the shopping experience. With four full service eateries and two bars in the store, there is something for everyone and every occasion. At the highest end, Wolf functions both as a standalone restaurant open after hours and as a gateway into the store after a business lunch or a nice dinner. The other three restaurants work as quick options for a mid-shopping break or a brunch with friends. What really sets the dining options at Nordstrom apart, however, is the way in which the bars are integrated into the rest of the store. The Shoe Bar may sound gimmicky but is actually somewhat brilliant and something all department stores should copy. How many times have you been shopping with a friend and find yourself sitting around while they try on every shoe on the floor. Now imagine that you had a drink in your hand while they tried to decide between two nearly identical white sneakers. And if you both need a break after all that hard decision making, you can head to the bar itself to sit down with a drink and a snack before moving on.
Like many department stores today (see our review of the Saks beauty floor here), Nordstrom has dedicated a lot of its square footage to beauty and beauty services. While the ground beauty floor gave off strong Sephora vibes and was even a bit disappointing in its lack of creativity, the “Beauty Haven” on the second floor dedicated to services felt much more exciting. We would imagine that the services floor will live up to its name as a “haven” for those in Midtown West who need a quick blowout, facial, wax or manicure. Like with the clothing selection, Nordstrom continues to set the bar for working with up and coming brands. For example, the store houses accessible facials brand Heyday’s first non-standalone location alongside a vending machine that dispenses Dirty Lemon drinks through text message.
Something we think about a lot is whether shopping is still a social experience. Inherently, the act of shopping online is a solitary activity. Whether you are sending screenshots of each item to your group message or are making purchases without consulting a soul, when you make purchases from the anonymity of your computer screen you are doing so without any human interaction. Online shopping is a transaction, not an experience. That’s part of why brick and mortar retail refuses to really die. The stores that provide a good enough experience to make up for the inconvenience of having to show up in person are the ones that will survive in today’s environment.
We were struck by how social of an experience Nordstrom was able to curate in its store. The decisions on what type of experiences and services to offer, the ways in which they integrated these into the store, and the general culture of their staff all come together to create this social environment. You can spend the day with a friend, starting out with brunch at one of the restaurants before moving on to the fitting rooms to show each other your finds and then head downstairs for a drink at the Shoe Bar to celebrate your purchases. Or you go alone because you have thirty minutes and know you need a dress for an upcoming wedding. Either way, you will find the store alive and abuzz with the hum of people. We don’t always realize how much we miss the activity of living life in the real world until we see it in action. When you choose to spend a day or even an hour at Nordstrom, you are reminded that the click of a button will never fully replace human interaction.
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