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Nordstrom Reinvents Itself

As a retailer in this marketplace, how do you distinguish yourself? How do you be bold and cutting edge, but classic and timeless? Better yet, how do you be different and still be around in five years? I'll tell you how. The same way that huge stars like Madonna stay on top: You reinvent yourself.

That is what Seattle-based Nordstrom decided to do. After an 18-month brand audit, the retailer restructured its women's apparel division, updated its store environments and launched its national brand advertising campaign telling consumers to "reinvent yourself."

Nordstrom's reinvention of its women's apparel - which came out of interviews and focus groups with customers - separates the category into four taste segments: classic, mainstream, modern and forward. In the new buying strategy, classic and mainstream each account for one third of women's offering, while modern and forward account for the remaining third.

Aside from its merchandise offerings, one of the most exciting changes Nordstrom has made is in its store environment. In February, all 71 of its full-line stores incorporated design changes. The Mall of Georgia store, which opened in March, was the first new store built to include all the modifications.

Touring the Nordstrom Mall of Georgia store, I couldn't help but think, 'This store is really a gem in the rough.' Among a sea of retailers whose stores are cluttered, difficult-to-navigate and nightmares of sensory overload, it stands out with clean lines, innovative visual merchandising and tidy displays. The store is open, airy and, most importantly, fun to shop. While Nordstrom does not call itself a 'department store,' it can be compared to the other department store anchors in the mall. And compared to some of the ones I've seen, Nordstrom is a shopper's paradise.

The Mall of Georgia store shows Nordstrom has learned not only to reinvent itself, but also to appeal to its range of customers. Several design themes reappear throughout the store, keeping it consistent, yet giving each department its own look. As I wandered about the store, design elements that struck me included the use of color, design materials and societal trends.

Taking its cue from changes in the fashion industry, Nordstrom is not afraid to use color. Architectural columns throughout the store are painted bright green, with some departments showing orange and other vibrant colors in rugs, furniture and clothes worn by mannequins. In some areas colors are contrasting; in others similar colors are repeated to establish a certain tone.

In the way of design materials, glass and silver-colored metal resurface time and again, but in different ways. For instance, on the lower level near the escalator, a cylindrical wood case topped with glass shows off hats. In the men's department, large round glass containers stand atop clothing fixtures. Glass shows up again in a completely different manner in juniors - colored glass bottles surround hanging metal chandeliers.

While many aspects of the design are recurring, Nordstrom does make each department stand out with its own little surprises. For instance, in juniors, funky, out-of-the-ordinary elements give the space a youthful feel. Barbie dolls are perched in bird cages hanging from the ceiling. In the children's department, a traditional tile floor gets a bit of whimsy with inset tiles that have kids' names and drawings on them. In cosmetics, pretty perfume bottles and designer perfumes are displayed in what looks like a custom-made shadowbox fixture. And in shoes - Nordstrom's claim to fame - potted grass and brightly colored flowers allude to walking in a fresh spring meadow.

Nordstrom stands out in a way customers can relate to and appreciate, rather than making them want to run away. If this 100-year-old retailer continues to reinvent itself with the times and combines that with its known dedication to customer service, it may not onlybe around in another hundred years but also may still be on top.

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