Learning from Nordstrom’s approach to mobile e-commerce

A deep-dive on the thoughtful customer-facing experience of Nordstrom’s mobile app and where further improvements could be made.

Select screens from Nordstrom’s mobile app.

As someone who has become more accustomed to shopping online, my customer decision journey tends to begin and end via mobile or desktop. But if and when there’s the opportunity to try something on in store, I’ll usually take it.

One time, I had already bought something from Nordstrom online to pick up from a nearby store. One of the sales representatives encouraged me to try on what I bought at the store in case a return might be in order. He also told me that there was a feature in the Nordstrom app that would allow me to reserve clothes to try on for later, in-store.

A shopping experience just for mobile? This, I had to try.

Based on the representative’s recommendation alone, I eagerly downloaded the app — a much more cost-effective alternative to pay-per-click marketing — and began to take notes.

Rich messaging like this help with priming users for permissions requests.

Lesson #1: Get your users to gladly opt-in before they actually opt-in.
Priming your users before they need to click “ok” for all of the permissions you’re requesting is part of mobile engagement 101. The way you do so is also important. I noticed, when I first logged into the mobile app, is that Nordstrom makes permissions priming elegant and offers the value propositions for each type of permission upfront.

An informative splash screen.

Lesson #2: Optimize loading/splash screens.
While most splash screens are fine when minimal, e-commerce apps like Nordstrom should make the most of all screen time when it’s appropriate and doesn’t interfere with a user’s experience. This splash screen is a prime example of how to do it correctly. One of Nordstrom’s selling points is that it offers free shipping and free returns all the time. It’s definitely a tempting reminder that can help consumers make their final decision when it’s time to checkout.

Lesson #3: Don’t feel the need to follow traditional UI patterns in online shopping — do what is best for users.
The details page for individual items is very touch-dependent. Photos are meant to be swiped through, all sizes and colors can be drawn out with a quick tap. While small, these interactions are much more enjoyable.

As planned, I decided to give the in-store “reserve and try” experience a shot. The day of, when I was about four blocks away from the store, I received a text saying that the sales representatives were alerted that I was on my way and were getting everything ready.

Sure enough, when I got there, everything I reserved was ready to be tried on. A perfect example of technology working behind the scenes to work for users. Which brings me to lesson #4…

Lesson #4: Make discovery and shopping on mobile not just possible, but fun and full of pleasant surprises.
In addition to the in-store reservation experience, there are several other features that the app offers including taking photos of any items to find similar items using machine learning, as well as scanning inventory in-store to learn more about availability, reviews, and more without having to chase down a sales representative.

Fortunately, many retailers have taken note, like Nordstrom, and are beginning to design their shopping experiences with a mobile-first mentality. But as we continue to experiment with technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, VR/AR/MR, and others, we need to always keep our users in mind and not let the shininess of new technologies distract us.

In other words, don’t throw in an augmented reality experience in your t-shirt company’s mobile app just because it’s cool. If this app uses facial recognition technology so you can see what the hat looks like on a customer in realtime, then do it. And if the business justification or potential is strong — even more reason to do so.


While much of the Nordstrom app is excellent, there were a few places where I found room to improve upon.

Before on the left, after on the right.

Offering more and different methods of payment
One thing I’ve appreciated from other e-commerce sites is that they’ll offer many ways for people to purchase. PayPal has been a dominant payment method and, depending on the market, I’ve also seen AliPay as another payment method. Granted, this decision may have been made due to trends they’ve seen in how people who use their app pay for purchases.

Doing even more with the splash screen
Currently, the main message on the splash screen stays the same — “Free shipping. Free returns. All the time.” While I agree that this is a strong message (and catchy too), I think there is room for one or two more messages in the time it takes to load the app. After all, alternating banner messages are already utilized on the desktop version of the site.

Examples of alternating messaging on desktop version of site.
Before on the left, after on the right.

Expanding on the “For you” section
This app already does a great job of serving up recommended items based on your searches and what you purchase. For this section, I’d like to not only see more examples of the clothing available based on my preferences, but also even more specific recommendations (e.g. type of top). But this is heavily dependent on what the user searches.

Before on the left, Zara’s mobile site in the center, after on the right.

Better integration of “style” tab
The only tab in the app that feels a bit more like an appease-the-stakeholder request or an afterthought is the “style” tab. The catalog experience, if you’ve used it before, is actually really well done once you use it. However, in this tab, it looks somewhat squished in. For visuals in mobile, Zara does a great job of making the most of the limited real estate that mobile devices offer. Nordstrom should continue to do that in this style tab as well.

I’d love to hear more examples of retail doing mobile e-commerce well. Make sure to leave a note below!


Thanks for taking the time to read this post! Follow me on Twitter and on Medium. And of course, feel free to reach out to me at hi@saraclayton.co.