Nordstrom Looks to Win Over Manhattan With Focus on Service

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(Bloomberg) -- Nordstrom Inc., making its biggest foray yet into New York City, is looking to target male shoppers at both the high and low end with a focus on customer service.

The retailer -- more commonly found in suburban malls -- launched its first full-line department store in Manhattan on Thursday. The 47,000-square-foot location, just south of Columbus Circle near Central Park, has two entrances: one touting Levi Strauss & Co. jeans and other mainstream merchandise, and another featuring such upscale brands as Comme des Garçons and Gosha Rubchinskiy.

The opening is the first part of an ambitious gambit for Nordstrom, which is pushing into New York at a precipitous time for the department-store industry. A second, women-focused flagship is expected to open in 2019 at the base of a new sky scraper that will be among the city’s tallest buildings.

The men’s store will give Nordstrom investors an early sense of whether the company can build a following in Manhattan -- and begin to pull out of a slump. Though same-store sales gained 2.6 percent during the holiday quarter, they’re expected to decrease as much as 1.5 percent this year.

The broader industry has been battered by sluggish mall foot traffic and a shift of apparel spending online. Nordstrom has largely sidestepped investors’ pessimism however, with its shares gaining 13 percent in the last six months.

The company bets it can counter the industry’s headwinds by providing in-store options that can’t be replicated online. It’s also trying to meld its e-commerce sales with brick-and-mortar locations -- an approach known as omnichannel.

Customer Service

“The key differentiator for us is the customer service,” said Gigi Ganatra, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Nordstrom. The new men’s store offers shoe shining and sneaker cleaning, guest barbers from Murdock London, and digital kiosks that allow customers to return items to a mailbox-like bin.

Shoppers also can customize their jeans and jackets on a floor dedicated to denim, where an expert can embroider a name on a favorite pair of Levi jeans or add a heart-shaped patch to the lapel of a custom-cropped jacket.

In the basement, shoppers can settle into a coffee shop that also sells draft beer. And on the upper level, a restaurant offers $23 lobster rolls, kale salads and cocktails.

But the future of the store remains open-ended, Nordstrom said. It has a flexible floor plan that will be adjusted depending on what New York customers respond to -- or don’t.

It’s about “being able to prove ourselves in the New York market,” Ganatra said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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