Nordstrom Merges Online And In-Store Inventory

Nordstrom might be the last retailer you'd expect to worry about slugging it out with competitors online for customer service. The tony $8.6 billion chain also doesn't have a reputation for tech wizardry. But when Nordstrom unveiled its redesigned Web site last Saturday (Aug. 21), it also spotlighted a feature that the retailer quietly began offering in September 2009: merged online and in-store inventory systems. As a result, a customer buying through any Nordstrom channel has access to products that happen to be in any store or online warehouse.

That fully merged-channel inventory system took four years of work to become a reality, according to Nordstrom spokesman Colin Johnson. The process started with breaking down organizational silos and laying the foundation, then moved to creating a single view of inventory and finally layered the brick-and-mortar store inventory view on top of the online inventory system. That explains why multichannel commerce seems like such a slow slog for most retailers today: It really does take years. Considering that Nordstrom's in-store approach of pampering customers can't be replicated online, the retailer was wise to start the march early--and arrive first.