Nordstrom’s first day in business on Manhattan’s West Side was a well-behaved, well-dressed mob scene of customers who were making the most of every shopping moment. The store is evocative of a European emporium; Au Bon Marche comes to mind sans the Belle Epoque architecture. That being said, the dramatic escalator atrium opening up five stories high might rival those iconic stores in modernity. The typical Nordstrom customer is a self-confident shopper, and the New York outpost caters to a savvy consumer with a curated collection of apparel and accessories, with some new brands to keep it fresh. The overall concept of Nordstrom is a seamless delivery of the soft-touch experience powered by high tech. On opening day, shoppers were armed with smartphones, enthusiastically snapping the store and themselves. And filling each of the seven restaurants/snack stops strategically placed throughout the store. The Express Services station was loaded with shopping totes and garment bags waiting to be retrieved. All in all, it looked like a great debut. The traffic continued over the weekend. The Block Party on Broadway was jammed with New Yorkers looking for a deal: free food truck food, Converse tattoos, live music and a host of other branded experiences. The store was full of New York shoppers in the full spectrum of the NYC consumer – all ages, backgrounds and personal styles.
The Lightness of Being
The top five selling floors are saturated with natural light. As you descend the escalator you have an unobstructed, panoramic view of what’s possible to own. With windows on three sides of the building, the merchandise is showcased using the undulating light as a stage for nice stuff to buy. The lightness factor is especially effective on the third floor where designer clothes are accessible and inviting, not closed in and off-putting as in many other luxury retail brands. Here they are displayed in an inviting open format designed to transform luxuries into everyday necessities.
High ceilings, whitewashed walls, a curated art collection, dynamic mannequins performing tricks overhead, stylish fixtures and a sense of humor make the store an experiential adventure. The apparel departments are cleverly presented. The beauty bar on the ground floor is an upscale Sephora design construct. You winnow your way between brand counters, redesigned as ersatz pop-up displays with brand beauty experts on hand to make you over. The sales staff at Nordstrom has got the be the hippest in any conventional department store with self-expression in personal style the norm. The DJ’s mix permeates the store – giving the luxury products a more relevant context. The floor displays take on theatrical narratives; they’re not just selling clothes.
No joke, everyone on the Nordstrom sales staff and their managers have a perpetual smile on their faces. It is the friendliest place in town, and the helpful staff seems totally authentic. Plus there are the services. Hemming and tailoring for coveted denim on Four; alterations on L1. Online pickups also on L1 along with a concierge service where you can stash your purchases until you’re ready to take them home. A shoe repair on L1 and service stations throughout the store for online pickups. Kiosks are available for online orders, and the undercurrent of tech is evident throughout. The food service on the basement level, L2, is modeled after Eataly with lots of cuisines and gifts. Nordstrom is dog-friendly and you will see many designer jacketed purebreds trailing along behind their inveterate shopping owners. And there are plenty of seating areas, although most of the male partners with their female shoppers were busy taking selfies. In the end, Nordstrom is built on the human factor; seamless delivery of product and services are facilitated by its infrastructure, but what you experience is a human connection in an environment that is cheerful and bright. You cannot underestimate how simple, yet how powerful this strategy is in delivering a place and space that is empathetic.
A Floor of its Own
The fabulous shoe department has an entire floor devoted to the worship of footwear (designer brands are housed on the second floor). When the choice gets the better of you, visit the Shoe Bar, strategically placed in the center of the floor, to revive yourself with caffeinated drinks along with other sociable customers. The Nordstrom x Nike shop in shop nestled in the corner of 57th and Broadway is a treasure trove of sneakers, streetwear and an eclectic collection of accessories and gifts which make a great story.
Giving Retail the Benefit of the Doubt
Opening day is always optimistic. Big crowds, lots of good will and the staff isn’t yet worn down by demanding, impatient New Yorkers. But maybe there’s some Seattle magic operating here. Heaven knows this Nordstrom is miles better than the flagship in Washington, so there’s something to say about getting better with age. In any case, it is a refreshing, light, happy place. New York could do with this elixir of optimism as a counterbalance to carrying the world on its shoulders. Yes, this is retail, not a forum for world peace, but with all the multilingual staff on hand, they might take a shot at it through their persistent good will and aim to please.