Priceless: the Nordstrom follow-up

This post is a follow-up to the one I wrote on Sunday, 29 April 2012, after a nightmarish customer service experience at the Mall of America Nordstrom store. If you haven’t read that account, what follows will make much more sense if you do so first.

I held off writing a follow-up until I felt like I’d reached as much of a resolution as I was going to. I reached that point two weeks later. And I really wanted to come back to you and say that my in-store experience was a fluke, that Nordstrom’s reputation for good customer service really was the norm.

I can’t do that.

In the minor Twitterstorm that blew up following my initial blog post, a member of Nordstrom’s social media customer service team contacted me and invited me to Direct Message with her about my experience. She had also seen the customer service complaint that a good friend submitted directly to the Nordstrom website, with a link to my post. I summed up the unnecessary pain, humiliation, and frustration to which I’d been subjected; she replied with very sincere apologies on behalf of the company she represents, for which I was grateful. She said that she hoped we could work together to find a resolution that would repair my impression of the company, to which I replied, among other things, that I would “be content with a good fitting with someone nice.” I asked if there were people at Nordstrom Rack who could also do that job. She said she would contact the MOA Rack location and inquire on my behalf. She also indicated that she would be forwarding my story up the chain of command, as an object lesson in customer service.

When she got back to me, a few days later, she said that, while the Rack doesn’t usually do bra fittings outside of special events for that particular purpose, there were trained sales associates who could do that for me. I expressed concern that, if they didn’t do fittings regularly, perhaps they wouldn’t do it as well as someone at the full-line store. Time and again, I was steered back to an option that took me to the Rack–“I’m sure you’d feel more comfortable there,” “I can imagine you’d rather not go back to the full-line store,” etc. It’s hard not to see those efforts as being related to my initial price point of $30-40, though I’d reiterated several times that, if I received good service and found a sturdy, lasting product that cost a little more, I’d be willing to spend beyond my range. Those statements were consistently ignored, and I feel the class warfare side of this whole fiasco more keenly than ever. I’m only welcome in the Rack; I shouldn’t even bother crossing the boundaries of the upscale store.

(When I finally received an email apology from the general manager of the MOA Nordstrom, on Thursday, it wasn’t in response to the promised escalation, but rather my friend’s online complaint. She, too, offered a “private fitting”–to which I could only say, “What, do you usually do them in the food court?”–but reiterated the statement that I “might prefer not to come back” to their store, and get the fitting at the Rack.)

Moreover, the offer of a fitting was consistently phrased as “you can call anytime and speak to this person, to set up a fitting.” The onus of getting what I was asking for was placed entirely on me. Now, I understand the practical issue of me being the one with the schedule that needs to be worked around–I get that. But there’s no good reason at all why I shouldn’t have had a phone call from someone–anyone–to apologize “in person” and ask me when I would be available for an appointment. This seems petty, when I write it out, but there isn’t a moment of my day that isn’t busy, and I’m not likely to take a moment to make a phone call for something selfish when other people need things done.

The longer I went without resolution, and after discussions with my therapist and friends, the more I felt that it wasn’t too much for me to ask to leave the store with what I’d come in for–an affordable, comfortable bra. I replied to the offer of a private fitting with the uncommonly assertive (at least, for me) suggestion that a fitting was basic customer service that they (ostensibly) offer to anyone who walks in off the street, free of charge, and that that wasn’t sufficient restitution for the damage done. I said I wanted an affordable, comfortable bra, and whether they accomplished that with a discount coupon or gift card was up to them.

Anyone who knows me knows that making this demand is A Big Deal for me. I’ll insist on cosmic justice, plus a moon to hang their coat on, for anyone else, but I just don’t ask for things for myself. I won’t even send food back to a restaurant kitchen unless it’s thoroughly inedible. This comes directly from lack of self-esteem–I’ve got no illusions about the flimsiness of my justification. It took me a full 12 hours to hit the Send button on that email. In some ways, I feel like that accomplishment was the real outcome of the harassment I suffered. (Deep gratitude to Cam, Jess, M, Panda, Josh, Elizabeth, and John for their editing and affirmations.)

That demand was, however, apparently in vain. Here’s the response I got from the Nordstrom rep:

At Nordstrom we feel that you can’t put a price on good customer service… Since you indicated in one of your messages to our social media team that you’d “be content with a fitting appointment arranged with someone nice” to bring resolution to this situation, we are happy to arrange this. Please let us know a day and time that would be convenient for you and if you’d like for your fitting to take place at our full-line store or at the Rack. We will work closely with you to ensure that you are fitted properly and to assist you in finding a quality product in a price point that you are comfortable with.

Following that reply, I received a request for my phone number so the manager of the MOA location could call and apologize in person. I hoped that she might have more leeway to accomplish what the social media rep couldn’t, but her tune remained the same. said offered me her apologies–though they struck me more as “we’re sorry we missed a chance to earn a customer,” rather than, “we’re sorry you were treated so inhumanely”–and an appointment with the stylist who fitted her for her bras. She also offered to have to have her meet me at the Rack. When I said that I didn’t think it was out of line to ask that, if the bra we found that fit me best turned out to be beyond my price range, that they step in to make it affordable, she responded with the “no price on good customer service line,” making it apparent that it’s company policy.  She said, “I mean, people could come in and be offended all the time! If we handed out gift cards left and right, we’d go out of business!”  To which I replied, “But I didn’t come in to be offended, and my experience really happened.”

I almost caved–I’ll be totally honest. I wanted to please and relieve her at least as much as she wanted to do so for me. But I drew up my last bit of gumption in the end and told her that, while I appreciated her time, her apology, and her offer, I wasn’t going to give a single dollar to a company that values their bottom line more than their customers. She sounded very put out, and the cheer drained from her voice. When someone ends a call with “Well, I’m sorry that’s how you feel,” you know you managed to stick to your guns.

So it comes down to this: Nordstrom’s quality of customer service is priceless to them. On the positive side, it means that they (are supposed to) care more about customer satisfaction than the sale. That’s good, and should be the service goal of every for-profit organization. On the flip side, it means that bad customer experiences aren’t worth anything tangible to them. They don’t assign a price to satisfaction, so when they fail, they still win, because mistakes cost them nothing, plus they reap the benefits of an object lesson. Nordstrom is not willing to negotiate with terrorists. And they see everyone who walks through their door as both potential sale, and potential bomber. It’s more than a little weird to think that they see customers as people “trying to get something out of them.” They do–you’re a freaking STORE.

Here’s my final reply:

Nordstrom, I will never darken your door or put a dime in your cash registers. Every time I hear someone suggest Nordstrom as a destination, I will tell them how I was treated.

I am not rich or powerful. But I have friends. My friends are having weddings and babies. My friends are your target demographic. My friends are fiercely loyal, and believe in the worth and dignity of every person, which apparently doesn’t fit with your company’s values. And they talk to people, too.

For 15 minutes of your time and a half-price bra, you could’ve had a whole lot of goodwill. Instead, you get 15 minutes of a whole bunch of people’s time, and a PR disaster. Be sure you tally that on your bottom line.



  • Yeah Jess
    Like Twinkies, I too will never spend another dime in Nordstroms. I will add them to my long list of companies. I will also let them know in writing on paper with a stamp and via email and via social media. I will also let my family know about their poor customer service as they have a Nordstroms in Iowa.
    Love you,

  • Oh, indeed, eight kinds of not shopping at Nordstrom’s again.

    I’d like to add: this is a failure of The Wire’s 40-degree-day rule. I’ve shopped there in the past, quite a bit. They’ve been fine if unremarkable. Your experience is my first non-40-degree-day instance with them and it has left me with a strong impression of the store that amounts to “Hello, Macy’s.”

    Kudos to you for standing your ground. Major props.

  • I am not rich, but I have a penchant for pretty dresses and no qualms about blowing too much money at the Chanel makeup counter.

    From now on, I’m doing that at Macy’s.

  • Understand that I’m trying not to be offensive or unsympathetic with this commentary, but I’m thinking about how Nordstrom’s is assessing the degree of the offense, and therefore what they consider reasonable compensation to be, as well as how they’re thinking about the decision to encourage you to shop at the Rack instead.

    In your original blog post, you wrote: A saleslady approached me and asked if she could help. I asked the general price range of their bras. She responded, “They go up to $200.” I nodded, more nonchalant than I felt, and asked again, “But the average price? Around $30 or 40?”
    She laughed at me, a sniffy sound of disbelief. “Ah ha ha, um, no. They average around $60.” I thanked her for the information, and left with as much speed and dignity as I could muster.

    I notice that you mentioned that you would have liked to have been told your options. I wonder: Why didn’t you explicitly ask, “Do you have any items in the $30-40 range?” (Since the average cost was $60, that would suggest that there are items that are less than $60. Also, by asking if the average was $30-40, the salesperson could have assumed that you were looking under that range, not in that range.) Or even, “I have a budget of $X, could you help me find bras that would fit that budget?”

    (You mentioned that you typed, “She laughed at me when I asked if there were any bras in the $30 range.” to Cam — but your story says that you only asked about the average. The questions, “What do these things cost on average?” and “Do you have anything at that price?” are quite different.)

    Asking if they had anything in the $30-40 range would have given the salesperson the opportunity to say, “Here are some things we do have in that range,” or, “No, but we do have some items that are slightly more if you’d like to see them anyway,” or “We don’t have anything that range, but you could try Nordstrom Rack.” — which would have been, I think, exactly the range of responses for what you wanted them to say.

    By just saying thank you after being told the average price and immediately leaving, the salesperson could only try to stop you with a, “Wait, is there anything further I can do for you?” which is more initiative than many salespeople have, and which a customer might perceive as overly pushy or even embarrassing.

    As is, the salesperson’s laugh at your average-price guess could very well be just an amused, very human laugh at someone being significantly off in an estimate. (This is true whether you’re talking about the estimated number of jellybeans in a jar, the estimated cost of an item, or how fiery a hot sauce is — being significantly too high or low will draw a chuckle, even though that chuckle isn’t really intended to mock the person who’s guessing.) Of course, I imagine the store manager told her, “Be careful what you laugh at, because it could be perceived as mocking.”

    I suspect that Nordstrom’s would be treating you differently if the sales associate had laughed at you for explicitly saying, “Sorry, that’s outside my price range” (which would have certainly been mocking), or if you had asked if they had anything in the $30-40 range and they had laughed then (which might not necessarily have been mocking but which many people would probably take offense to however the laugh was meant — that’s not all that far off from $60, so laughing is unreasonable, versus, say, going to a Porsche dealership and asking if they have anything in the $10k range, which might trigger an involuntary laugh).

    I suspect Nordstrom’s is viewing this as, “Our salesperson’s laughter was probably not tactful, but she also couldn’t read your mind to determine what you wanted.” and they view that as something to be corrected by trying to make sure that you get the fitting and merchandise that you were trying to purchase, but not warranting financial compensation.

    I don’t perceive their comments about steering you towards the Rack as “class warfare”. I imagine they’re trying to send you to a place where you’re going to find a good selection within your budget (a quick look at the Nordstrom’s website shows that the typical bra price is in the $50-100 range at Nordstrom’s main, whereas it’s in the $25-50 range at the Rack).

    For an item like bras, where you know the customer is likely going to be buying a bunch of them, it makes sense for a company that has stores in multiple price ranges to send you to the one that’s comfortably within your price range, because you have, say, a $120 budget intended to cover 3 to 4 bras at $30-40 a pop, but you instead end up choosing $60 bras, you probably don’t want 2 bras instead of the 4 you were hoping for.

    • I’ve thought of all those possible meanings, Lydia, as I’ve replayed this in my head over and over again. The best possible thing she could’ve done, instead of shooting down my question, was to say, “Well, they vary in price, often in correlation with size. Let’s get you into a fitting room and figure out what will fit you best–there’s no charge for that, and it’ll give us a place to start. Even if we don’t have things in your budget here, there’s a Nordstrom Rack in another part of the mall; did you know that?” Purely from a sales standpoint, getting the person in the fitting room is more than halfway to getting the sale.

      I also probably wouldn’t have perceived the class bias so strongly if they’d said, “Our most experienced fitters are at the main store, so why don’t you start there? We can find out your size, and show you how the best bras *should* fit, and then, if there’s nothing in your price range, you can head over to the Rack.” But trying to prevent me from even re-entering the main store–with some offers, at considerably more inconvenience on their end–was unnecessary.

      I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t thinking clearly in the moments immediately after the initial encounter. I was so braced for the physical embarrassment, I was totally unshielded for a different subject sideswipe. I reacted straight from the gut, which was neither rational nor valiant. And it’s possible I could’ve misinterpreted the laugh, but I’ve been condescended to often enough in my life to trust that I don’t usually misread that impression. There were a number of ways for either of us to salvage the situation, if I’d had the courage or she’d had the interest, but the part that pains me, after so many years of customer service, is that the saleswoman’s default opening gambit was sadly lacking, and she coded me at first glance. Which is enormously stupid in a world where one of the wealthiest CEOs is perpetually enshrouded in a hoodie.

      I appreciate your perspective, but what it came down to in the end, when I made it explicit what they could do to win me back, and earn my good word, as a customer, was that they weren’t willing to go to the trouble. So to hell with them.

  • Consider that they’ve already spent WAY more in salaries for their PR and manager to correspond with you over the last two weeks than a coupon offered up front would ever have cost them. That’s just bad business sense.

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