Retail Traffic

A Service Showdown

On Feb. 20, Nordstrom comes to Atlanta, specifically Perimeter Mall in Atlanta. In fact, this is the first store in the Southeast for the Seattle-based department store retailer.

It took Nordstrom awhile to come to the Southeast. The store at Perimeter Mall will be the chain's 93rd. Perhaps the Nordstrom executives reasoned that its brand of customer service wasn't a critical need in a region that boasts of "Southern Hospitality."

News from Perimeter Mall indicates that the store is going to be something to see. At 230,000 sq. ft., Nordstrom will cover three floors, feature three eateries and five shoe departments, and include a number of Nordstrom's signature specialty services: Spa Nordstrom, shoe shine, complimentary personal shopping service, in-store concierge and live piano music during store hours.

I'll admit that the specialty services will be nice, and they are a point of differentiation for the chain to be sure. But five shoe departments, that's newsworthy. I've shopped in Nordstrom stores in Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco; I know these shoe departments will not disappoint.

Shoes and service are the apparent cornerstones of the chain's retailing philosophy. I'm looking forward to seeing firsthand how these attributes work in conjunction with the rest of the store.

Those of us who know retailing and retailers already know of Nordstrom's reputation for impeccable customer service. I've heard great tales about Nordstrom sales associates who went way beyond the call the of duty. I don't have such a story to tell; my visits to the store have been mere fly-bys. In my home city, however, the expectations -- and the scrutiny -- will be different.

I actually have a standard of customer service to compare Nordstrom to. Doreen at the Parisian store where I shop (Town Center at Cobb) makes sure I know what customer service is all about.

Doreen greets me with a warm "hello," alerts me to sales and "value purchases," and finds the sizes or colors I need if her store is out-of-stock. She secures the best fitting room for me, has the alterations specialist ready at my beck and call, and sends me thank-you notes regardless of what I buy. Most importantly, she knows that I don't need "help" shopping.

I see Doreen helping others shop, finding for them exactly what they want. That's great -- for them. For me, I like the actual "shopping" part of shopping as much as the "taking it home" part.

When I shop, I'm not looking for a personal shopper-wannabee. I want to work with someone who knows how the store operates -- or, at very least, how the cash register operates. In my book, Doreen gets a gold star in customer service. She has set the bar.

I will shop at the new kid in town. I want to experience the Nordstrom brand of customer service. But Doreen and Parisian have nothing to worry about; I'm going to be a Parisian customer for a long time. I just can't guarantee where I will buy shoes in the future.

TAGS: Retail
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