Okay, I don’t precisely feel like Julius Caesar when he was stabbed by Brutus (Hey, at least his problems were over!). But I was initially kind of surprised by what my ever vigilant research department fed me from Nordstrom’s web site.
I’ve written about the tough retail environment. Among the topics I’ve highlighted are how over retailed the country is, the difficulty in getting sales growth, how hard it is for independent specialty retailers to compete, that consumers are increasingly in control, the impact of online and mobile and probably other stuff I just don’t remember.
I’ve never claimed to have “the answer.” But I’ve suggested that part of the response of brands and retailers has to be to manage distribution, control inventory and have systems such that you can hope to improve your bottom line even when sales aren’t growing as quickly as they used to. And know your customer and market position. Yeah, easy for me to say in two sentences. Not so easy to do. I know.
So when my wife- uh, I mean my research department- showed me this link from Nordstrom’s web site, I glanced at it but didn’t think much about it.
My wife likes Eileen Fisher, but this was available only in plus sizes so it was no sale. I couldn’t figure out why you’d want to boil perfectly good wool. Fermenting hops and barley I understand, but boiling wool?
Anyway, I said something like, “Nice coat.” She urged me to look again and showed me what had just popped up.
To be clear, she hadn’t found a lower price herself and requested a better deal. Nordstrom found it for her and offered a lower price.
This is Nordstrom. As far as I know, they compete on quality, service and ambiance. You don’t go there for the best price. You go there because it’s Christmas or your wife’s birthday and you want to pick out something nice in clothing, but you know if you do it yourself it won’t be right and at Nordstrom, some nice woman will talk you down and help you figure out what size your wife is and not say you should have checked in her closet before you came and help you pick out something that your wife might actually like and you don’t care what you have to pay for it. At least that’s what I’ve heard.
How does their business and expense model support price matching?
Okay, here’s how it works. This is from their web site.
“We are committed to offering you the best possible prices. We will meet similar retailers’ prices if you find an item that we offer available elsewhere. We’ll also be happy to adjust the price of an item you’ve purchased if it goes on sale within two weeks of your order date. Please note that price matching only applies to items of the same size and color. Designer items can only be matched when purchased at regular price.”
“We are unable to match prices from auction and outlet stores or their websites, or other retailers’ discount promotions, shipping offers and gift card offers.”
I feel a little less aggrieved after reading that. This is carefully controlled and managed and focused only on retailers that Nordstrom perceived to be their direct competitors.
This is a tactic by Nordstrom that probably just formalizes what’s going on anyway, so I’m now feeling less flummoxed. Nordstrom controls who they compare prices with. It’s not Kohl’s. It’s only retailers who have what I expect are cost structures similar to Nordstrom. And apparently, they don’t price match if the other retailer has it on sale. Wonder exactly how they program for that? How do you decide how much lower the other store’s price can be before that product is “on sale” and you no longer offer the price match? There are some interesting issues here. All part of figuring out the omnichannel I guess.
Perhaps this discourages some shoppers from doing their own price shopping while at the same time limiting the discount and making the shopper feel that Nordstrom is looking out for them. Maybe price matching only happens if you are slow to put the item in your cart, or leave it and then come back.
And as long as we’re on Nordstrom’s web site looking at women’s coats, check out this page. Look at the list of featured brands part way down on the left. Notice that The North Face is the only brand we’re likely to recognize as part of our industry. They are also the first brand listed even before you click through to see their offerings and their page has 53 coats.
The reason you might reflect on it is that VF owned North Face has somehow navigated the branding and positioning wars so that it’s fine for it to be an outdoor brand and a fashion brand among other fashion brands that are clearly not outdoor brands. My perception is that somehow The North Face’s credibility as both an outdoor and a technical mountain product has been translated so it provides credibility as a fashion brand.
We’ve watched and are watching lots of industry brands struggle with this. What is VF doing with The North Face (and Vans) that other brands don’t seem able to do? No magic wand I’m afraid. It’s VF’s processes, operational discipline, and strong balance sheet that make the difference.