New York, United States | AFP | Thursday 11/28/2019 – 09:22 UTC+8
By: John Biers
In recent years, the American department store has sometimes seemed destined for the same fate as Scrooge’s partner, Old Marley: “dead as a doornail.”
Buffeted by the rise of e-commerce and fast fashion, as well as a shift towards experimental retail over apparel, brands like Macy’s and J.C. Penney have shuttered hundreds of stores at suburban malls across the country, while once-mighty Manhattan fixtures like Lord & Taylor and Barney’s have vanished.
Into this seeming wasteland, Nordstrom last month premiered a New York store ahead of the holiday shopping season, which officially kicks off Friday with the annual “Black Friday” barrage of door-buster sales and online promotions.
The store, located a few blocks from Central Park, marks the 118-year-old company’s first flagship offering in the nation’s biggest retail market and aims to reboot a format that has been fading.
Nordstrom’s against-the-grain launch — which has won praise from analysts — is part of a broader push by the Seattle company in New York that also includes new smaller “Nordstrom Local” retail spaces for managing e-commerce deliveries and tailoring and other services as the upscale retailer aims to deepen its ties to consumers.
The store’s mostly upscale array of apparel, accessories and other goodies are set off from nearby merchandise-free areas in a showroom-like space that invites guests to think of items as a carefully-curated assortment rather than a witch’s brew of items jam-packed into shelves.
Company officials plan to frequently change out merchandise in prominent locations to keep guests intrigued.
The space allows consumers to drink a glass of wine as they survey dresses, shoes and other wares, and offers services such as embossing a personal signature on sneakers or hemming on denim on the store floor itself.
Higher overall sales
Nordstrom’s arrival in the city comes amid broad confidence about the 2019 holiday shopping season, even though many analysts remain skeptical about department stores as a whole.
A wildcard this year is a new round of tariffs on consumer goods that US President Donald Trump could enact on December 15.
But even if that happens, the tariffs are not expected to affect 2019 holiday season items, although there could be a hit to consumption if the stock market retreats from record levels, analysts said.
Though the season is relatively short owing to the lateness of Thanksgiving, experts expect sales growth of between about 3.5 to 5.0 percent, according to an S&P note that highlighted the strong labor market.
After Black Friday, which has persisted as a phenomenon despite criticism from environmentalists and others, shoppers have become accustomed to another round of discounts on “Cyber Monday” three days later.
New York remains home to several major department stores including Macy’s and Bloomingdales, even if the old Lord & Taylor in Midtown, long known for holiday windows, is gone.
Nordstrom officials are bullish on their prospects in the Big Apple, which the company said was already its biggest online market even when the city was home to the off-price “Nordstrom Rack” stores but no full-priced store.
The company said the opening weekend drew 85,000 visits and co-president Erik Nordstrom called the launch “perhaps the most important milestone in our company’s long history.”
The main floor includes a central showcase area presently offering Christmas ornaments, as well as a black-leather clad teddy bear signed by RuPaul and quirky knicknacks. Shoppers can then turn to top brands like Burberry and Prada.
The design eschews the boxy, maze-like layouts of 20th century department stores.
“We worked very hard to not build walls,” said Dawn Clark, senior vice president for store design, who views the open spaces as more welcoming and offering “hyperflexibility” to meet evolving store needs.
Clark also cited the store’s use of natural light and high ceilings as a strength, adding in a phone interview that “people feel better and feel more creative and open to explore when they’re not being compressed or oppressed by low ceilings and lack of light.”
Other touches of modern hospitality include unisex bathrooms and allowing dog visitors.
Christina Boni, a senior credit officer at Moody’s, said the store’s bright interior and open sight-lines made it easy to navigate, a selling-point compared with other department stores where things are hard to find.
“Really making a customers struggle through a store and look at other things is not going to make your customer happy,” Boni said.
Jan Rogers Kniffen, a consultant specializing in retail, predicted the New York store would do well, along with another new Nordstrom store in Norwalk, Connecticut.
But Kniffen said other department stores remained under pressure due to falling traffic at US malls, with some companies also plagued by high debt.
“I think the New York store will do well. I think the South Norwalk store will do well,” Kniffen said. “But I don’t think the department store industry is going to do well.”
© Agence France-Presse
Cover image: A view inside New York City’s first-ever women’s Nordstrom that spans seven stories on November 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)