This week, at least one headline caught your eye: nearly half all online purchases in 2017 will go to Amazon. (Feel free to sit back and process that for a minute.) Stated another way: of the $450-something billion being spent online this year, a study shows that $196.75 billion of that will go directly into the coffers of Amazon. That’s 4% of all U.S. retail.
How far behind are other U.S.-based rivals? In a word: very. eBay could see sales of just over $30 billion and Walmart’s online sales will hit $16 billion. What happens when you add those together? It’s only $46 billion, or, in technical terms, it’s way, way less than the mega business that Amazon is going to corner this year.
We didn’t get here overnight. Amazon has been steadily entrenching itself as the world’s most prominent omnichannel seller for two decades now. They all but invented the customer-driven shopping experience playbook we all use with recommendation engines, consumer reviews, and steep online discounts.
Not all retailers were prepared for the world of online. (Also: that is a massive understatement.) One retailer in particular, Nordstrom, has quietly been defining the way that brick and mortar retailers need to do business on the web, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. They did it first, in fact, and their success model is both an example and a teacher for other in-person retailers in any vertical.
Lessons from Nordstrom
Nordstrom will never do the kind business that Amazon does. (In 2003, Nordstrom, by way of example, hit record revenues of $6.49 billion.) While they may not compete head to head with Amazon’s endless “sky is the limit” marketplace of sellers and products, during an era where every brick and mortar retailer we can name is taking on water, Nordstrom is expanding.
While Macy’s is struggling to maintain its physical footprint, Nordstrom is opening a flagship store in Manhattan. Why? Because the chain knows that their online sales go up 20% in any city where they open a store (and, no, they don’t currently have a physical presence in NYC). Nordstrom organizationally embraced online, and did it early. They were the first national brick and mortar department store that enabled customers to buy online and pick up in store, an innovation they invented.
They are now experimenting with reserving online and try in store services, along with consistently improving and tweaking their shopping apps. The company recently announced that management anticipates online sales will account for half of its sales in five years, a reality they seem to have both predicted and embraced.
From a recent piece in Fortune:
“It’s reasonable to assume that we could probably be doing half of our business online in the next five years or so,” [co-president Peter] Nordstrom said at WWD’s Apparel and Retail CEO Summit in New York.”
Nordstrom doesn’t see online and in-person as mutually exclusive (a position we echo). From that same Forbes piece, this quote gets to the heart of what we feel here is the most important lesson for any retailer, physical or online:
“More broadly, Nordstrom said, retailers have to avoid trying to force shoppers’ habits and instead adapt to them. So called [sic] “channel coercion,” or trying to steer shoppers to one avenue for shopping or other, “doesn’t work.””
That says everything that a product manager, marketer, or catalog manager needs to live by in the 21st century. Customers don’t follow you anymore. As a retailer: you have to follow them.
So, the lessons from Nordstrom? Be smart and stay aggressive. Invest in both online and in-person shopping experiences. Stay customer and product focused.
Sounds like a bricks to clicks success to us.
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