When Nordstrom opened its West 57th street New York City flagship store in October 2019, Manhattanites welcomed its arrival with open arms.
With the women’s retail space spanning 320,000 square feet of retail space on seven levels and the men’s store spanning an additional 47,000 square feet on three levels just across the street, the NYC flagship represents the biggest and best statement of the brand and the largest single-project investment in Nordstrom history.
To provide a customer journey unlike any other, the store itself creates an experience that is responsive and reflective of its customers, featuring a waveform glass façade for an interactive viewing experience for shoppers inside the store and those looking in at street level, effectively connecting the shopping experience to the energetic city.
But more than a retail space for the carefully curated products that Nordstrom provides its customers, the retailer’s Manhattan flagship was designed to create and foster emotional connections via various experiences and services. The environment lends itself to create a sense of discovery, encouraging customers to navigate easily and find new brands and emerging designers at Nordstrom’s ever-evolving concept pop-ups that are made to change.
Here, Chris Wanlass, Vice President and General Manager for Nordstrom in New York City, discusses why it was important to be agile during the pandemic and what it takes to create an environment that leads the market into the future of retailing as well as the mechanics of driving discoverability and keeping the consumer at the center of decision making.
WWD Studios: How has Nordstrom, and the NYC Flagship in particular, evolved to serve consumers?
Chris Wanlass: While our time in the city hasn’t been particularly long, we’ve been staying close to the business and listening to the feedback from our customers to ensure our merchandise and service offering mirrors their needs.
One example is our curbside services. There was clearly a point during the pandemic in which some customers may have been reticent about going into stores yet wanted the convenience of picking up same day.
Being able to pivot our approach and expand our curbside services made it easy and friction free for our customers and has remained a popular way for them to be served through today. Finally, not just in NYC but throughout Nordstrom, we’ve expanded our capability to serve and sell to our customers digitally, through various tools and resources, which our customers have loved.
WWD Studios: How has Nordstrom created an environment with flexibility for the future in mind?
C.W.: Fashion and retail are constantly evolving, and our NYC flagship was built with this in mind – and we have already successfully put it to the test. From flooring that is consistent throughout each level, not limiting departments to fixed pads or areas, to fixtures and wall systems that are mobile and flexible, it has allowed us to proactively respond to changes in category, brand or trend performance. From a technology standpoint, we invested in the infrastructure of the store to have future capability, some of which we may not realize at this time. It will help us evolve the way our store operates in the future.
WWD Studios: How has Nordstrom used the NYC Flagship store to drive consumer discoverability? And what are shoppers looking for in an in-store experience?
C.W.: Department stores can be overwhelming to navigate. We have worked hard to ensure this isn’t the case throughout our 320,000 square feet, with high ceilings, lots of natural light and space. We hope we have created an environment that makes discovery fun and easy.
I give huge credit to our merchants who work hard to pull together a curated merchandise offering of both brand staples and new, fresh talent, showcasing the best of brands while making it palatable to our customers with the right amount of choice without it becoming overwhelming.
We work hard to staff our floors with passionate, knowledgeable salespeople and stylists who can take all of our choices, both in store and online, and make it easy for a customer to digest, so we can help them feel good and look their best.
WWD Studios: How are the stores in-store pop-ups – or temporary in-store concepts – part of the brick-and-mortar evolution?
C.W.: I am really proud of the moments of discovery and curation that we have built into both our Men’s and Women’s stores. We have dedicated significant square footage to areas that change and allow for great collaborations and storytelling, giving our customers reasons to come back and ask what’s next.
In our Men’s Store, in the beginning of the year, we featured Black Space, a retail platform featuring Black designers, creatives and thought leaders with a curated collection of products and drops that gave us an opportunity to bring the conversation regarding Black talents into our store and into the greater dialogue as a whole.
In our Women’s Store, our Center Stage which changes out monthly, featured a Rag & Bone Deli in the Spring. This iconic NYC based brand brought the concept of a quintessential New York deli to life in an incredibly creative way. Coupled with exclusive products and experiences, it was at the right time of the reopening of the city to bring this partnership to life.
Our merchants work on these spaces in some cases a year or more out. We want to ensure they are meaningful, bring something special and unique to the city and to Nordstrom in particular. We work creatively to ensure they come to life in an interesting way and provide experiences to keep customers engaged throughout their visit and they should always be grounded in great product.
WWD Studios: Beyond product discoverability, how has the store served to excite consumers with experience?
C.W.: In both of our stores, we’ve thought long and hard about the experiences we wanted to offer, to make it easy for New Yorkers and exciting and interesting for tourists. A big part of our experience is rooted in Food and Beverage. We have three full-service restaurants (Wolf, Bistro Verde and Jeannie’s), three bars (Shoe Bar, Broadway Bar and our Men’s Clubhouse), two coffee bars and the Milk Bar in our Men’s Store, we feel that we have a compelling offer as well as real nod to hospitality.
We’ve strived to make doing business with us easy with convenient services for buy online pick up in-store, alteration appointments, styling appointments, personalization opportunities, gift wrapping, our Nordstrom to You and even clothing donations!
WWD Studios: How have you seen the last year impact consumer behavior in terms of how they have wanted to shop, and how has Nordstrom innovated from those learnings?
C.W.: We talk about “Closer to You,” or convenience and connection, as a way in which we operate and serve our customers and I feel it comes to life in NYC in a really special way.
With our Nordstrom Locals, in the West Village and Upper East Side, customers can have purchases sent there, easily do returns, get alterations done, have items gift wrapped or meet their stylist while staying close to home in their own neighborhood.
Taking our learnings from Local, we turned on our Nordstrom Rack stores to offer the same service offerings. In New York City, we can provide these same experiences in Union Square, 31st and 6th and our two Rack locations in Brooklyn. This gives us eight locations just in NYC to serve customers and has been well received by our customers.
WWD Studios: From your perspective, what is the future of brick-and-mortar and how is Nordstrom leading the way?
C.W.: Personally, I feel stores will always be important as a place of discovery and interactions, as humans will always be social beings. It may sound like a cliché, but we truly keep the customer at the center of all of our decision making.
When you make decisions through the lens of the customer, it should typically garner the results you desire. However, the ownness falls on the retailer to do it well and if we lose the discovery, product curation, service or make it a challenging or cumbersome experience for the customer, those days may be challenging.
WWD Studios: To that end, how does Nordstrom create an environment for fostering connection with
C.W.: I just can’t say enough about our people. Nordstrom is a brand built by our people. We can talk all about our beautiful buildings, our product and service experiences but it truly comes to life each and every day by those on our frontlines, humbly and passionately serving our customers.
We work hard to make Nordstrom a great place to shop and we work equally hard to make it a great place to work, where employees can bring their true authentic selves to work each and every day. We’ve all been through a lot these last 18 months, most not as much as our frontline retail workers and I can’t thank our teams enough. While I am biased, I feel we’ve got the best team out there and I’m proud of the work, effort and experiences they put forth each and every day.
A Step Above
Once the largest shoe store in the country, Nordstrom’s deeply rooted history in footwear has evolved to become a favorite floor for many in its New York City flagship store. In fact, Women’s shoes alone account for an entire level including sneakers, heels, flats, boots, booties, sandals and more from over 200 brands and designers.
Offered throughout the store, Nordstrom’s complimentary styling service is also available for customers looking to complete a look based around a shoe purchase in the “best dressing rooms of any retailer.” Meanwhile for guests looking to make a new pair of sneakers uniquely their own, the store’s Personalization Studio can customize any pair of shoes with vinyl printing, hand painting or embroidery.
Meanwhile, Nordstrom’s aptly named cocktail bar, the Shoe Bar, is located on the shoe floor to provide the perfect spot to celebrate a purchase, refuel with a beverage and snack or meet friends for cocktail hour.
“What’s better than sipping from your favorite cocktail while trying on shoes?” said Chris Wanlass, Vice President and General Manager for Nordstrom in New York City.
And for those not quite old enough to pull up to the bar, Nordstrom is also known to provide children’s shoe tying classes for a well-rounded experience.
Having grown since the store’s initial opening – an example of the store’s flexibility to change with consumer desire – Nordstrom’s Beauty Haven is a one-of-a-kind beauty services floor with an expansive collection of brands and services to give customers a reason to stay all day from spa treatments for relaxing and recharging to pre-store opening Dry Bar appointments to help you get ready for life. Customers can indulge in facial, nail, body and wax treatments among a roster of additional services.
While distinguished shops allow visitors to experience specialized branded items while seeing what’s next, new special beauty shops rotate through for exciting launches throughout the year. Among the many beauty launches at Beauty Haven, new brands including Dr. Dennis Gross, Hydrafacial and Cowshed will be offering treatments for beauty lovers to explore this Fall.
Other exciting, new beauty launches this year from emerging brands have included pop-ups with Valentino Beauty and UOMA.