Can a High-Tech Touch Help Revive Nordstrom?

May 25, 2018, 4:22 PM UTC

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

The three-year stock performance of old-line retailer Nordstrom—down about 40% since early 2015—belies the exuberant and experimental merchant I read about in Phil Wahba’s chock-full-of-information profile in the new Fortune 500 issue of the magazine. (Nordstrom is No. 183, and this is my last daily column highlighting the great articles in this issue.)

Nordstrom’s exuberance in the face of a tough retail environment is what makes its story all the more exciting. The highish-end department store company was insulated for a bit by Amazon’s cutthroat pricing and hyper-efficient customer service. But Nordstrom (JWN) knows what it’s up against. As Wahba sagely writes, Seattle-based Nordstrom can literally see Amazon (AMZN) outside its own windows.

Nordstrom’s high-tech response is a corollary to what made it great in the first place. While the technology of a web site or mobile app is groundbreaking, shoppers also value the physical experience of shopping: the human assistance, the ability to touch the product, the pianist in the lobby.

Nordstrom has combined bits and atoms—I stole that phrase from Uber’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick—to keep itself in the game. Wahba calls the venerable retailer’s new Manhattan store, for example, a “sophisticated shopping-tech laboratory.” Nordstrom allows self-service return bins with near-instant credit, including for merchandise bought online. Customers can see how not-yet-made clothes look on a life-sized avatar. They even can reserve products online and have a fitting room ready when they arrive. The room will even have their name on the door.

Here’s the key takeaway: There’s life left in a handful of dinosaurs, particularly if their brands are strong and they’re willing to embrace, be creative with, and invest heavily in the latest technology.


Gary Sheffer, a former media-relations executive at General Electric (GE) and currently a spokesman for ex-CEO Jeffrey Immelt, posted this rebuttal Thursday to Geoff Colvin’s tough review of Immelt’s tenure, the subject of yesterday’s Data Sheet column. Sheffer’s statement speaks for itself, as do the comments current CEO John Flannery made this week about the sad state of affairs at GE, causing its stock to drop 7%. The share rebounded 3% Thursday.


Have a great weekend.

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