Lessons from Toys R Us and Nordstrom

The 2012 Shop.org Annual Summit, the prestigious eCommerce confab, was held this past week in Denver.  I got the chance to emcee the event and meet the keynote speakers.  And the lineup was particularly compelling this year, with Jerry Storch, the CEO of Toys R Us and Jamie Nordstrom, President of Nordstrom Direct kicking off each of the respective days of the conference.  It was an interesting dichotomy—Jerry Storch is a notorious internet skeptic  (he was the guy who reportedly was behind Target’s, uh, questionable decision to execute eCommerce on Amazon’s platform) while Jamie Nordstrom may be the industry's biggest web evangelist.  Nordstrom is heavily focused on web growth and is investing a lot of money to the channel.  Despite their differences, there were consistent themes that surfaced nonetheless: 

Experiences matter.  Both executives talked about the importance of creating unique and engaging store experiences to serve shoppers.  Jerry talked about new mom events at Babies R Us and Lego afternoons for families in Toys R Us stores that were traffic drivers to the store and served to create brand evangelists.  Jaimie’s first words were about the service and personalization that guests received in stores.  In both cases, the tactile experiences in the stores were regarded as critical to serving their best customers. 

Cross-channel matters.  Both also spoke extensively about serving the needs of different types of shoppers, particularly young shoppers who often shop online, but nonetheless want to pick up packages in stores or have items that may be unavailable in stores shipped directly to their homes.   The takeaway was that such channel agnostic delivery would become table stakes for all retailers. 

Where they differed though was more interesting:

The impact of pureplays.  Jerry Storch in particular took many veiled jabs at Amazon, referring to the company’s aggressive pricing and its expensive home delivery costs (without mentioning Amazon directly).  To Jerry, Amazon’s model is unsustainable and is less desirable to customers than rich store and multichannel experiences.    Jamie on the other hand, didn’t really spend any time talking about the competition but did reference Amazon and Netflix (indirectly) as fear-worthy disruptors in their respective spaces. 

The impact of new technologies.  Jerry also dismissed the buzz around social, mobile and local, likening them to teenage sex, saying they were frequently talked about but disappointing.  Jamie on the other hand discussed the potential for cutting-edge technologies—mobile wallets and payments, and online fit vendors, for instance. 

There’s an expression that only the paranoid survive, and anyone who dismisses the power of web commerce, or the growing strength of Amazon seems shockingly complacent.  While I admire Jerry’s audacity for getting on stage and telling an audience of eCommerce executives that web sales were less interesting than we thought,  Jamie’s message resonated more with the audience.  While Nordstrom’s digital lead is difficult for others to easily follow, it nonetheless painted an aspirational portrait of what could happen if one had executive support and resources to focus on a superior multichannel experience.