Luxury Institute News

August 19, 2014

Nordstrom bets on a slow, cautious entry into Canada

By: Marina Strauss
The Globe and Mail
August 18, 2014

For Karen McKibbin, getting it right is more important than doing it fast in her latest assignment at upscale U.S. chain Nordstrom Inc.

The president of Nordstrom’s Canadian division has been gearing up for two years for the launch of its first store here on Sept. 19 in Calgary’s Chinook Centre. She watched another U.S. retail giant – discounter Target Corp. – stumble in rapidly introducing its first 124 outlets in this country in 2013 amid customer complaints of empty shelves and overhigh prices.

Nordstrom is taking a decidedly different approach from Target, opening its first six stores gradually over 2 1/2 years, she said.

“We are going to stub our toe – we are not going to get everything perfect,” she said in a telephone interview from Calgary, where she has been spending three or four days a week commuting from Nordstrom’s Seattle headquarters. “You can expect us to make changes and respond in real time. We are certainly not resting on our laurels.”

A lot is riding on Ms. McKibbin making a positive first impression with Nordstrom in affluent Calgary. As Target works to make up lost ground, Nordstrom is investing in a slow, deliberate rollout, betting that its first foray outside its home country will pay off in giving customers reasons to return amid rising competition in the luxury field.

Nordstrom posted $14-million (U.S.) of operating losses last year in Canada and expects $35-million in 2014, chief financial officer Mike Koppel has said. The red ink will flow for “several years” before the division contributes to the retailer’s bottom line, he has warned. Eventually, the company anticipates it can generate $1-billion of annual sales in up to 10 department stores and as many as 20 of its Rack discount outlets.

(Target, for its part, had expected to be in the black in the final quarter of its first year in Canada, but instead it reported an operating loss of almost $1-billion last year and analysts anticipate more red ink in 2014.)

But Nordstrom, which is a relatively strong performer south of the border, will face an increasingly crowded luxury market in Canada. Dominant player Holt Renfrew & Co. and men’s wear specialist Harry Rosen Inc. are expanding their stores, while U.S. rival Saks Inc., which was bought by Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay Co. in 2013, is preparing to launch its first stores in this country next year. HBC is making progress in polishing its existing operations here.

“Nordstrom is going to have to be adaptable because things will evolve in Canada,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive officer of researcher the Luxury Institute in New York, which has worked with each of Nordstrom, Holts and Saks. “But I think Nordstrom will be a solid competitor.”

In the Institute’s annual survey of luxury retailers’ customer service and store experience, Nordstrom ranked No. 1 this year after coming in second in 2013 and first the previous year.

In Canada, Nordstrom has already shown its cautious approach by delaying the launch of its Rack stores here from a planned 2015 roll out because of the unexpected complexity of building its new systems. Nordstrom also will hold back for now on introducing a separate domestic e-commerce site, said Ms. McKibbin, a veteran of Nordstrom.

“We definitely feel there’s an opportunity for us to serve the customer online and that’s definitely still part of our strategy,” she said. “Although when we’ll be able to offer that to the customer is left to be determined.” Nordstrom allows consumers here to cross-border shop from its U.S. site although steep duty, tax and shipping fees raise the tab about 10 to 20 per cent, a spokeswoman said.

Its next store opens in Ottawa in March, 2015 and, in Vancouver, six months later. “I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about opening our first store,” Ms. McKibbin said. “The cadence is going to allow us the opportunity to open the doors to our first store and really get to work about making the adjustments, things that customers are telling us they want, and then applying that to our next store.”

Click the link to read the entire article, which includes a quote from Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/nordstrom-bets-on-a-slow-entry-into-canada/article20100322/

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