Nordstrom 'Not Pulling Back' on Expansion

Acknowledging the difficult economy and the company's flagging sales after five years of strong performance, Nordstrom Inc. executives on Tuesday sought to reassure shareholders at the company's annual meeting about how they are pushing forward.

One initiative, unveiled at the meeting, is a new "buy online, pick up in store" program, which is being tested in stores starting with select items in women's apparel and shoes, men's wear and cosmetics. The feature aims to add convenience for consumers, but also is another way to interact with them in the store, which is resulting in additional purchases when a shipment is picked up, said Erik Nordstrom, executive vice president and president of stores.

But in recognition of the trying economic times, the firm is starting its annual 40-percent-off spring sale a month early. Blake Nordstrom said the retailer is scrutinizing inventory levels, comparing being a fashion retailer to being a farmer who has to get rid of produce before it goes bad.

As for the economy, Nordstrom singled out soft sales in California — comprising 32 percent of the business — as a particular challenge in a state hard hit by higher gasoline prices and mortgage foreclosures. "We've been through this cycle before and we'll get through it, but it's been tough," he said.

Afterward, Nordstrom said he couldn't single out what might be the "catalyst" to reignite the U.S. consumer. "There is no question there are consumer confidence issues," he said. Like other retailers, he said he hopes the $600 individual federal tax rebates that are being mailed out will stir consumers to buy fashion.

Women's wear, accounting for one-third of Nordstrom's sales, also has been challenging, except for the designer, contemporary and denim segments, Nordstrom told shareholders. "But as a whole, women's is a little soft," he said.

Loretta Soffe, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for women's apparel, said she is looking to introduce more tailored clothing, like pant-and-jacket separates. "We need a little more oomph in the better zone," Soffe said after the meeting. In addition to designer, contemporary and denim, other women's apparel selling well includes jackets, knit tops and anything in bright colors.

As it does each year, the company singled out two vendors as "partners in excellence." This year's partners revealed at the meeting were Juicy Couture and designer Tory Burch.
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