Nordstrom Local — Through the Jobs to Be Done Lens

Jay Gerhart
Sep 16, 2017 · 4 min read

My teammate, the brilliant Ann Somers Hogg, posed an interesting question on Twitter that’s been tugging at me all week: Will Nordstrom succeed with their latest experiment? For what job will customers hire this solution? I’m not sure how far I want to go on the first question, but I do want to dive into the second. She’s referring to Nordstrom Local, a new concept introduced on September 11th — which Fast Company characterized as “tiny new stores [that] basically won’t have any stuff in them.” What they will have is a wine/beer/coffee/juice bar, eight fitting rooms and styling experts providing a highly personalizing experience that is completed when clothing is delivered quickly through other channels. This is a really juicy morsel for the Jobs to Be Done lens!

Wall Street initially reacted poorly to the news, finding it odd that a clothing retailer that operates mall-based 140,000 square foot stores would announce that it would operate 3,000 square foot outposts that don’t contain clothes (except for a small selection for customers to try on, presumably for sizing purposes). However, some are seeing this concept as an intriguing, perhaps breakthough, innovation. Thomai Serdari of Fortune proclaimed “Nordstrom Is The First Retailer That Actually Understands What We Want.” If this is indeed true, then Nordstrom will have demonstrated that it fully understands the progress its customers seek, the struggling moment that they encounter, and will integrate its operations around a new and better experience.

So, what progress would customers seek to achieve through a visit to Nordstrom Local, and what might their context be? What are the Forces of Progress? Admittedly, I am a 49-year old man who has a no-nonsense, hunter-gatherer approach to clothes shopping, so in lieu of proper interviews, I need to indulge in speculation. And consult my wife.

Mr. Serdari writes about strong functional and emotional components of the Nordstrom Local experience. First, this store format has an opportunity to “create more personalized visits with less friction — shorter waits, fewer returns, and lower levels of frustration on returns and pick-ups overall.” More importantly, he says that Nordstrom is asking us “Who wants to feel fabulous?” This is closely related to the Nordstrom mission and is an evolution of the high-touch customer experience that its department store format is known for.

Peg DeMarco of Morganton, NC wrote a column in The News Herald with a comment that I found spot-on: “…give people too much choice and they won’t want to make any. Nordstrom agrees because it believes shoppers feel overwhelmed by too much choice, so why not remove all the inventory and put one’s trust in an expert in style?” On-line shopping can be even more overwhelming than the physical store. Even with filters and a great user interface, it’s easy to throw up one’s hands and abandon an on-line purchase altogether.

Using The ReWired Group’s Forces of Progress diagram, referenced at the end of this post, I’ve taken a first pass at what forces might be acting upon a hypothetical Nordstrom Local customer. My lens may be too narrow, so feel free to comment and suggest other forces.

If Nordstrom is able to capitalize upon the pushes and the pulls — and mitigate the effects of the habits and anxieties — then indeed, they can be successful. Of course, how they execute this concept will be critical, particularly the logistics component. If they nail the in-store experience, but fall down on being able to get customers a wide range of items quickly, the concept could unravel.

Having worked through the Forces of Progress and considering the writings of Mr. Serdari and Ms. DeMarco, I submit the following Jobs Statement:

When I want to look great, but don’t want to go to the mall, help me enhance my wardrobe in a pleasurable way, so that I can make efficient, effective choices while feeling fabulous.

There are certainly other contexts and desired progress that could be articulated, and perhaps more elegantly. I’d love to hear other ideas!

Finally, what is else is Nordstrom Local competing against? One of the most powerful insights of Jobs to Be Done theory is to expand one’s view of competition. I’m intrigued by the “fabulous experience” potential. Might Nordstrom Local compete against book club, Bunco, or happy hour? If Nordstrom Local becomes so convenient and accessible beyond the most elite market segments, it could even address non-consumption — those who become so frustrated or overwhelmed by on-line or in-store selection that they fail to purchase. Attempting to perform too many jobs may prove fatal to Nordstrom Local, but it’s interesting to contemplate the possibilities. Looking into the future, VR & AR may open up fascinating opportunities for this concept.

A couple of days after the Nordstrom Local announcement, we learned that Nordstrom is closing in on a deal to go private again. Perhaps this will provide shelter from short-term Wall Street pressure and allow it to test new innovations in an increasingly on-line world that is demolishing many other retailers. If Nordstrom Local is clear and focused in the customer jobs that it can uniquely deliver upon — and if it can mitigate consumer habits and anxieties — we’ll see an exciting new dynamic in the retail landscape. At any rate, it serves up a thought-provoking exercise for the Jobs to Be Done lens. Many thanks Ann Somers for a great question!

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I’m Jay Gerhart and sometimes I write about innovation, improv or other stuff.

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Things Jay Writes

I’m Jay Gerhart and sometimes I write about innovation, improv or other stuff.