Retail Tips from the Conference

Nordstrom, Chicago
With its new Customer Experience Centre, Nordstrom is working on combining the physical and digital customer experience, including open-source collaboration from vendors.

Lessons in customer experience from Tory Burch, Staples and Nordstrom

If I can recommend one retail conference for retailers and tech companies alike, it’s, which was held in pleasantly sunny Chicago this year. What makes this omni-channel themed event so strong is the excellent balance between the great personal connections and the information presentations with depth and candour.  

On arrival day, I attended a small group dinner hosted by old friend and e-commerce thought leader Jim Okamura, followed an impromptu store tour. The highlights included the Walgreens at Wicker Park, which uses features of the old bank it inhabits; the stunningly merchandized Bloomingdales home store; and the largest Nordstrom in the world. A quick peek inside Marshalls made its Canadian counterpart, Winners, on Robson Street, seem upscale.  

Day one of the official conference was bookended by “The Digital Journey of Growing a Global Brand,” a terrific presentation from Matt Marcotte, Tory Burch senior vice-president of global retail, and Miki Berardelli, Tory Burch CMO; plus “Accelerating Omnichannel Innovation Through the Company Lab,” a panel featuring the innovation leads at Nordstrom and Staples. The two presentations were bound together with the same theme: customer experience.

The Tory Burch keynote presentation captured a genuine and coherent approach to excellence in customer experience. So many claim it, but so few really understand how to put the customer at the centre of the business.

At the forefront of Tory Burch’s high-end customer experience is the ClientBook, a project initiated to enable authentic relationships with Tory Burch shoppers. It is a digital record of the customer that integrates all data sources, including sales associate notes. “Anything someone has bought within the past two years will actually show up, with photographs,” said Marcotte. Tory Burch headquarters and physical stores both have access. In fact, frontline staff helped shape this tool in-house.

What really stood out—even beyond the data integration and the keen customer focus—was that this idea embeds the store staff at the core of this experience. But does it work? Average transaction values are 69 per cent higher when the ClientBook is used.

I wrapped up my afternoon with the “Accelerating Omnichannel Innovation Through the Company Lab” panel, which grappled with the challenge of how to inject innovation into retail. Both retailers on the panel, Nordstrom and Staples, have taken an incubator-inspired approach. Their internal labs have spawned a number of innovations to date, and have begun to see a culture shift outside their internal groups. The key for both is to have a “North Star Vision” and to ensure well defined challenges shape the mandate and process (as opposed to simply dreaming up cool apps). So what’s next? For Nordstrom, it’s The Customer Experience Centre, where the company will combine the physical and digital experience with open-source vendor collaboration.

Nordstrom is guided by a mantra of “Service with Experience.” Visions, mantras—whatever term is used—really mean a foundation or investment filter that is brand- or customer-specific, rather than focusing on budget or cost, which most retailers fall back to. Investment dollars are scarce, but they are only allocated after a first pass with the brand filter.


David Ian Gray is the owner and principal of DIG360 Consulting Ltd., a Vancouver-based retail strategy firm.