Quarter after quarter, the news for big retail stores has been dismal and getting worse. Few sectors have taken a harder hit than department stores, especially those that typically serve as anchors for major mall complexes.
The latest brand in the crosshairs is Nordstrom. The high-end department store watched its share price fall over 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, and so far this year things haven’t looked much better. Profits are down, falling to $180 million over three months as compared to $225 million over the same period the previous year.
Some are trying to blame an “unseasonably warm” winter for the decline in holiday shopping. Sure, people may have purchased fewer jackets in December, but you can’t blame that, now things have cooled down across much of the country…and it doesn’t explain the long trend, which left Nordstrom down about $120 million in profit in 2015 as compared to all of 2014.
The real truth is consumer tastes are changing. Nordstrom is not the only brand in crisis. Both JC Penney’s and Macy’s are hurting too. As are many other big box brands.
So what can Nordstrom and others do to stop the bleeding? While a long-term trend may be inevitable, the first steps should be to offer what online stores like Amazon cannot. Actual customer service.
Deliver expertise that an online retailer cannot hope to match. When searching for an item, it’s one thing to check product reviews online, but it’s something else entirely when you have the opportunity to speak with a true product expert. Someone who can actually answer the questions that are most important to customers.
Deliver service the Internet cannot match. There’s still something to be said for the human touch, and the fact that many people appreciate being pampered. They like it when you treat them with hospitable respect. This is more than a greeting though that is part of it. It’s about making the customer FEEL different while they are in the store. More important – special. Department stores used to offer that service. But many of them got lazy, assumptive. They rested on their past accolades, but now’s the time to bring back the smiling, helpful customer service that made these places go-to shopping destinations for our parents and grandparents.
Finally, Nordstrom and its competitors must become more interactive. They need to create more opportunities for customers to build a positive narrative. It’s easier than ever before to talk about a positive experience or to create positive narratives. Conversely, though, it’s also easier for angry or frustrated customers to vent. Retailers who want to survive this transition must give customers a good reason to sing their praises.