November 30, 2007

The Nordstrom Piano

Reverend Billy might suggest that the decision to discontinue live piano music in select Nordstrom stores is an indicator of the coming "shopocalypse".

For some, this is like McDonalds taking down the Golden Arches, or Nike removing the swoosh from their shoes. The decision erodes the story the consumer tells herself about why she chooses one retailer over another.

I detest it when bloggers indiscriminately rip big companies in the name of generating additional "subscribers" ... I mean, really, how different is that from when big companies make bad decisions in the name of shareholder value? Real people, good people, work at big companies, doing good things. I don't like to see these people harmed.

I also detest it when big companies indiscriminately humble the very consumers they depend upon for their existence, exploit low-wage workers to satisfy shareholders, or slowly deviate from the things that made them special, different.

Do we buy from a retailer because they hire a person to play piano? Do we buy from a retailer because they meet a need at an acceptable price? Do we buy from a retailer because they are nearby and convenient? Do we buy from a retailer because the employees treat you well?

Or do we buy because of the way these factors "interact" with each other?

Most likely, it is the latter. And nobody is smart enough to forecast how one factor interacts with another. We just wait and see.


  1. Anonymous12:06 AM

    Hi Kevin,
    Interesting comment about the Pianos. My earliest department store memory is in early 80s of my parents taking us to Wanamakers in Philly, to see the huge toy floor, the light show, the Eagle, and the world's most ornate pipe organ(which I had a chance to play). Then the store was taken over by Strawbridges, followed by Lord&Taylor, now Macy's. The toy floor is long gone, and few times I've been there since early 80's, well something is missing.
    Yeah, someone could say what is missing is childhood nostalgia, but honestly I believe what's missing is the experience that I had hoped to share with my kids.
    Wanamaker set out to make his store a unique and wonderful experience. Now too much focus is on making profitable decisions, not building a legacy. Nordstroms had same idea with Pianos, but now the "bottom line" guys are taking over. Macy's has been the bad guy in Chicago(can you believe they are STILL boycotting?) for destroying a legacy although the great Macy's merger was touted across the country as brilliant and will create numerous synergies, cost savings, etc. but someone forgot the sales.

    On consumerist site a little further down you will see discussion of Sears controversy. Again Lampert insists Sears is more profitable from before his purhase, but obviously sales at the original multichannel department store are freefalling.

    Kevin, if you were hired CEO of Sears or Macys, how would you go about repairing the brand name?


  2. I'm not sure you repair a brand name.

    Instead, I think you try to consistently do good.

    If you're Sears, you mean something to people age 50+. I'm not sure what Sears means to somebody under the age of 50.

    That's where a challenge exists. It doesn't matter what any blogger thinks of Macys or Sears, of their merchandising or marketing or branding strategy.

    Businesses go through an evolution. They start off, then they catch fire (i.e. Facebook), then they make mistakes (Facebook), then they reach a "scale" that makes them admired (Google), then they become too big, become feared (Microsoft/Google), then the begin to run out of growth opportunities (Macy's) so they start acquiring companies, then without re-invention, the business begins to erode while still throwing off large amounts of cash (Sears). Then the business dies (Wards).

    I'm a database marketer, not a retailer, so I don't know what the "secret sauce" is that causes a business that is past maturity to re-invent itself. But many businesses do figure it out. AT&T was in the telegraph business. American Express used to be in the parcel delivery business via a pony, somehow evolving into a credit card company.

    Somebody smarter than me might be able to see how Sears or Macy's could evolve in the future. My job would be to measure the effectiveness of that decision. Few people have the latitude to take the risks necessary to make the evolution happen.


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