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Let’s Get Physical: Nordstrom Pumps Up Active

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David Moin
·7 min read
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Nordstrom Inc. is pumping up its active offerings across athleisure, performance wear and fitness gear categories, in many cases rapidly introducing labels and products never before offered by the retailer.

For such activities as hiking, cycling, tennis and other racquet sports, Nordstrom’s offering has been sparse but now it’s becoming more significant. Nordstrom has had more offer for training, running, hiking, yoga and golf but assortments for those activities are also being bolstered.

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Brands being introduced in March include Eleven by Venus Williams, Bad Birdie, and Gramicci, and among the brands that were introduced within the last three months are IVL, Outdoor Voices, Brooks Running, On Running, Malbon Golf, and Parks Project.

For fitness and training, Nordstrom recently began selling items like Bala weighted bangles, Sweaty Betty running gloves, Topo Designs hiking backpacks, Smith snow helmets and ski goggles, and Yoga Design Lab yoga mats.

Also new to the mix: Hyperice and Theragun massage devices, and digital fitness equipment such as the smart Tangram Jump Rope, which syncs to one’s phone to track jump counts, and Tonal, a high-tech, at-home digital weight and personalized coaching system.

“Tonal is a great example of how we are thinking about alternative business models, how we can engage with customers differently, and how we challenge ourselves to think about partnerships differently,” said Lori Marten, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for men’s and women’s active, intimate, sleepwear, swim, and performance outerwear for Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack. “We will have Tonal in 40 doors in our top markets,” Marten said in an interview.

Nordstrom’s strategy to become a stronger destination for active is internally designated “active ambition.” It’s a key element in the retailer’s overall strategy for long-term growth to, as Nordstrom executives say, “widen the aperture” of who the retailer serves and the range of products it offers.

The strategy, outlined at the retailer’s last investor day in early February, calls for Nordstrom to broaden its digital assortment from 300,000 items to potentially 1.5 million over the next three to five years; inject lower price offerings into the Nordstrom Rack off-price matrix, and extend the reach of its three-year-old market strategy, from 10 urban areas currently, to 20 this year.

Pre-COVID-19, Nordstrom started gradually building its home assortment, primarily across sheets, towels, decor and cookware. An aggressive strategy for the company’s relatively small home business is being drawn up.

Now an aggressive strategy by Nordstrom in active seems well along. And it’s logical considering the nation’s interest in health and fitness has only intensified with COVID-19, and because Nordstrom is based in Seattle, where outdoor activity is firmly embedded in the lifestyle.

In December, Nordstrom launched an active microsite, enabling customers to search for active brands by activity or category for the whole family. On the microsite, shoppers can also find fitness and wellness advice, expert tips, and product and performance guides to support fitness and wellness goals.

Last quarter, Nordstrom began introducing labels it didn’t previously carry, such as IVL, giving that brand its first physical presence in a store.

The goal is to introduce 75 labels in active, including athleisure and performance apparel brands and footwear, to Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack stores and websites. “If you think about the first half of this year, we will be really close to that number,” said Marten. “Q1 is our big push. For anything that we couldn’t get done in the first quarter, we will follow through in Q2.”

Currently, Nordstrom has more than 200 brands in its active portfolio including men’s, women’s, kid’s, shoes and athletic gear divisions, though as Marten emphasized, the mix constantly changes and evolves depending on customer preferences.

“We are constantly looking at our brand portfolio to determine what we need to add. We are really striving to be that place of destination, to truly be a multibrand active authority,” said Marten. “Everything we do really starts with the customers. The customer is truly at the heart of every one of our strategies.”

Nordstrom’s in-house Zella private brand, Nike, Adidas, The North Face, Canada Goose, Sweaty Betty, Ivy Park, Beyond Yoga, Alo, Vuori and Rhone are among the retailer’s important active collections. In athletic shoes and sneakers, key brands have been Hoka, Brooks, On Running, Asics and Teva, to name a few.

“The fashion industry embraced athleisurewear around 2013. It’s evolved into an everyday way of dressing,” said Marten. “There’ so much innovation going on with new brands in the space and from a tech and a fabric perspective. The active industry is highly fragmented and competitive. We’re making it easier than ever to discover new and innovative products. As we really took a look at expanding our aperture, we are growing our authority in active and want that to come through in different ways.”

Historically, Nordstrom has been best known for its footwear offerings, traditional and upscale appeal and service, though in recent years it has layered in more of a younger, contemporary appeal by introducing brands such as Topshop and Madewell, and increasing designer offerings, which has lately been the store’s best-selling area.

Asked if Nordstrom is playing catch-up in active, Marten replied, “No. We do not feel we were behind. Our growth ambition for active is rooted in the pursuit of evolving with our customers as their needs and lifestyles are evolving. We’re already a multibrand active authority offering everything from athleisure to performance gear across men’s, women’s, kid’s and shoes, and so the growth is about adding to and expanding our aperture and assortment to create newness and innovation that excites the customer.

“We know this category is relevant to our customers through their searches on our website and feedback in stores,” said Marten. “We’re not behind in active — the division is thriving for us — it’s about adding an ‘and’ in terms of how we can further diversify our assortment to create a convenient and inspiring space for customers to get everything they need in one place with us. We’ve been seeing a consistent build with regards to customer demand and interest in active for some years.

“We are taking over square footage for this important category, and creating activity-specific assortments. We are reimagining our category presentation for items like sports bras and leggings, rethinking our signage approach,” to make it easier for shoppers to navigate the store and read explanations about products. Marten said she couldn’t be specific on the square footage allotment for active, saying, “All of our stores are sized differently. It really varies.”

Tonal’s high-tech exercise system is shown on Nordstrom’s active microsite to drive customers to Nordstrom stores, where they can demo and purchase it. “It’s a big first step how we are showing up differently for our customers,” said Marten.

In the 40 Nordstrom stores where it’s being sold, the Tonal system, priced $1,995, will occupy 50 square feet of space in the active department and is being manned with a Tonal salesperson for demos. In inches, the device is about 51 by 21.5 by 5 and it gets affixed to a wall at home. It’s a sleek substitute for bulky weights and dumbbells, and works with digital weights based on electricity and magnets, creating up to 200 pounds of force and resistance. It has a 22-inch flat screen for virtual personal training sessions, requiring a monthly membership.

“When we looked at the retail landscape, to figure out who is well-suited to our target demographic and who was innovating, after talking to several other retailers, we chose Nordstrom,” said Christopher Stadler, chief marketing officer at Tonal. “The activewear category is blowing up. We think Nordstrom is at the top of the list of who is doing well.”