Nordstrom pivots as shopper habits change during pandemic

Like many of its peers, venerable department store chain Nordstrom is having a tough time keeping pace with customer demand for new clothes because of supply issues.

That will be an even bigger challenge heading into the full swing of its anniversary sale, a tradition since the 1960s. Last year, customers stayed away because there was no reason to buy dressy clothes during a pandemic.

But Nordstrom is framing this year’s event as an opportunity for shoppers to reinvent themselves as they come out of their homes. Amid product delays, the retailer says it developed a back-order feature on its website for customers who want to take advantage of the sale but find the item not in stock.

Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom stores and great-grandson of company founder John W. Nordstrom, recently spoke with The Associated Press at its Manhattan store to share some thoughts about changing shopper habits, shipping delays and why the Seattle-based Nordstrom plans to pack up masks soon. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q. What kind of delays in merchandise shipments are you seeing?

A. Anywhere from a couple of days to a month. And you don’t really always know exactly what’s causing it. Is it the port in Asia? Is it the port at Long Beach where ships anchored out there can’t get offloaded. We’re retailers. We’re focused on serving customers. We’ve got a great team that’s focused on the inbound supply chain. And whether it’s a few days or a couple of weeks, we’re ready to roll with the punches on that.

Q. Anything left of the COVID-19 safety measures?

A. In most cities and markets we do business in, we are able to do the full makeover in our beauty departments and in our spas. That was probably one of the last things that we’re able to unlock. But we want customers to know — and it’s been this way for quite a while now — that when they come to Nordstrom store, they’re getting the full experience. It’s not a watered-down COVID version of Nordstrom.

Q. What’s the customer traffic like?

A. It has been very different across the regions. It started in the South — South Florida, Texas — over the last several months. It’s the states that dropped the restrictions first is where traffic started to build. And then as you moved North and West, as states dropped restrictions, we saw that traffic come back pretty quickly. And so we’re encouraged by the path that we’re on and the pace that customers are coming back in.

Q. What makes the anniversary sale extra important this year?

A. More than anything, it’s a wardrobe refresh. People have discovered comfort. They don’t want to sacrifice style. There’s a big demand out there for people to really go through their closets and kind of reinvent how they want to look over the next couple of seasons.

Q. Which trends from the pandemic will remain and how are you reacting?

A. So casual, athleisure, denim. We are scrambling to get after what the new suit is. It may not be the same suit that it was. It’s a sport coat and it’s a pair of jeans. It’s an interesting time to try and react to very quickly changing customer needs.

Q. What’s not coming back?

A. Maybe masks. We’ve been selling a lot of masks the last year and a half. We’re not selling a whole lot right now, which is a good thing. And so I think maybe we’ll pack those masks away, and hopefully we’ll never have to bring them out again.

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