At first glance, Kleenex, Scotch tape, Band Aid, Styrofoam, and Google don't seem to share much in common. But they do unite under one defining characteristic: each of these items have branded themselves so well that their names have become synonymous with the products they make.
There's another name that deserves a spot on this list: Nordstrom.
More than just a clothing retailer, Nordstrom has become the standard other UX designers use to craft the perfect experience. Sure, they sell similar clothing and products as Bloomingdales and other competitors. And sure, their prices may not stand out in the market. But Nordstrom practices every day a lesson that others will do well to take note: discover the areas where you can compete so well that no amount of competition can topple you.
And they've hit the mark in user experience (UX). UX design isn't just how something looks or functions. Rather, it's both of these things, and how the user feels during their interaction. And Nordstrom has dominated this trifecta like no other.
Take a look at these 8 reasons Nordstrom remains at the pinnacle of their industry and won't be coming down anytime soon:
#1 - Simplicity Is At Its Core
Whoever first said "Less is more" may not have been referring to UX, but the shoe certainly fits. Nordstrom's former principal UX designer Justin Marx believed in continually taking things away until the design needed to bring them back. To determine an element's necessity, Marx tested each one against a series of questions:
- Why is the element there?
- What value does this element bring to the user?
- Can the design survive without this element?
In short, every piece should serve a specific purpose. If it didn't pass the test, it was eliminated. Marx and his team constantly asked why they were making choices. They refused to decorate for creativity's sake. They embraced white space and used it to guide the design.
In one of his blog posts, Marx discusses how his team pared the options to ensure clarity and conciseness. They limited typographic and iconography. They established universal design patterns to avoid recreating the wheel each time. Even the previously existing 23 button styles received careful attention and reconstruction to ensure every detail was perfectly simple.
Nordstrom adopts simplicity in both design and function. Without one or the other, the experience will always lack for something better. But combine the two and UX could easily become your top defense against your competitors.
#2 - Each Experience is Personalized
No customer wants to be treated like an IP address. Not only is a generic experience less memorable to the customer, it also eliminates sales opportunities by promoting your own interests over your customers'.
Consumers have recognized their influence on business. They know every purchase matters to a company in today's overcrowded retail landscape. They feel entitled to better treatment because the money they spend is ultimately keeping a company in business.
Nordstrom recognizes the power of the customer too, which is why they've taken great deliberation in providing a seamless personalized experience in person and online. They've invested heavily in data-driven experiences, including integrating online and in-store inventories so shoppers know where they can find an item nearby.
No two experiences are alike, which means there's always something new and fresh for users to discover.
#3 - They Empower Employees
Culture is the beating heart for Nordstrom, and it dictates every decision the company makes. As a result, employees feel empowered to care for every customer in the way they see fit, regardless of channel.
According to Glassdoor, Nordstrom employees are paid well above the minimum wage, which enables them to recruit better talent to care for their customers.
Having earned a spot on the Top 50 Happiest Companies in America and Top 10 Happiest Companies for Young Grads, there's no doubt that employees control much of how users experience Nordstrom.
Frontline employees can handle a customer's experience without bouncing back and forth between a manager and themselves to satisfy a situation. Their employees are problem solvers, plain and simple, and it's made their reputation for service world famous.
#4 - They're Consistently Consistent
When it comes to setting expectations, there' no higher bar than Nordstrom. Their consistency is reflected across the board, from website design to customer service to product selection and quality.
Regarding UX, Nordstrom leverages design as a branding tool. They set visual expectations that users can relate to the brand. Take a walk through any Nordstrom and you can't help but note the meticulous merchandising that draws your eyes, even if you're not looking for anything in particular. It's hard to mistake their store for any other store.
Part of what fuels their well-branded UX is their dedication to simplicity. By simplifying the experience, Nordstrom is better able to let its brand do the talking without unnecessary elements drown it out.
#5 - They're Devoted to an Omni-Channel Experience
In 2015, Nordstrom teamed up with CashStar to provide a better way to give and receive gift cards. In addition to providing personalized experiences, the move enabled shoppers to send gift cards instantly or on a scheduled date, which fueled growth and reduced costs. The reason? Nordstrom is consistently dedicated to helping shoppers buy the way they want to buy.
This is just one of many examples of Nordstrom's commitment to their user's experience. They offer a variety of shopping features and options that have been meticulously stitched together to create a seamless experience:
- Fitting rooms have touch screen kiosks to fuse online/offline channels.
- Customers can connect with Nordstrom associates via text to shop on the go.
- Curbside delivery lets you pick up online purchases in person.
These innovations are certainly miles above other retailers, but they wouldn't exist unless they were invented for the customers. Innovation for the sake of innovation doesn't exist in the Nordstrom UX, which is why they're continually exceeding honest expectations rather than touting false greatness.
#6 - They Favor Customization
Not to be confused with personalization, Nordstrom has taken customization to new levels to ensure customers aren't limited to off-the-shelf products.
For example, their Shoes of Prey service allow in-store shoppers to design a custom shoe based on a variety of materials, colors, patterns, and styles.
This goes beyond the personalized experience of taking measurements and hand selecting shoes in the customer's size. Rather, Nordstrom has taken care to ensure that each customer can purchase the shoe of their dreams - even if it doesn't exist yet.
#7 - They Show Their Story
Actions speak louder than words. A picture is worth a thousand words. Words rarely do most of the talking, and no one knows this to be truer than Nordstrom.
Rather than explain their brand story, Nordstrom has perfected the art of storytelling through their simple designs, careful merchandising, clever innovations, and customer centricity from their employees.
They empower their employees to ensure no customer is left dissatisfied. They offer competitive pay to ensure they can attract the best talent available. They emphasize a dedication to helping shoppers enjoy the store in whatever way works best for them.
These might not be things you'll find in their About Us section on their website, but that's because they're too busy putting these qualities into action. And those actions make all the difference.
#8 - They Never Settle for First Place
While Nordstrom may be enjoying its reign as King of UX, they're not slowing in their attempt to stay on top. The company is continually searching for ways to improve its website, stores, and other channels to offer a better UX in every direction.
Their ongoing efforts to prove themselves to its fans reinforces the fact that they’re prepared to whatever it takes to satisfy and delight. Other businesses would do well to follow suit.
If you want to improve your UX, you could learn a few things from Nordstrom. They've certainly proved themselves in a world of me-too competitors and price wars, neither of which has been able to shake them so far.
As competition increases, so does the need to clearly define your USP and find more creative ways to make your brand stand out. UX certainly gives you the flexibility to impact your brand in ways nothing else can. With enough effort, you might just become the next Nordstrom of design.