May 22, 2011, 5:44 PM — If you shop in the U.S., you're likely familiar with the Nordstrom brand. It's not just another department store: It's a business with legendary customer support.
Nordstrom is noted for taking returns on everything they've sold for any reason. There's even a great urban legend that a customer once returned a set of snow tires to Nordstrom, which is of course an item that the store doesn't sell.
(I once had the opportunity to ask a member of the Nordstrom family if the story was true. After a moment's thought, he said, "I won't answer that question, but I will tell you no one is telling that story about Macy's.")
That's why I found it amusing that Nordstrom is taking a page from the Apple retail playbook and rolling out a series of iPod touch-based checkout devices to their retail stores. I've called Apple the Nordstrom of technology in the past, but now it seems the student has become the master.
People often point to the Apple Store as a core reason of Apple's success. (Though let's keep in mind that when Apple opened its first stores, some retail analysts suggested the effort would fail within 18 months.) But there's a lot more to the Apple retail experience than polished wood, bright lights and great glass staircases. Here's an exercise for those of you in retail: Go build a store with a 45-foot glass wall and ceiling and a great glass staircase and see if you sell more products as a result.
Consumers don't really care about technology. They care what technology enables for them. Whether it's communication, collaboration, media, or productivity those are the things that matter. What consumers also care a great deal about is the experience they have to go through in order to purchase those enablers. Whether it's a phone or PC or car or house, it's all about the buying experience. (And often the more expensive the purchase, the harder the experience is. Ever buy a car or a house? How was that experience for you?)
More and more I hear anecdotal stories of Apple's customer service, and how an experience went from being frustrating to heroic. These become tales at cocktail parties and dinner gatherings. The net result: The type of experiential marketing that simply can't be bought, only earned.
What's more interesting is that these tales aren't coming from Apple enthusiasts (although many have since become enthusiasts to the core, if you'll excuse the expression) but from regular consumers who have simply had a positive experience dealing with the company.