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Nordstrom Tries On Bonobos for Size

By Erika Morphy
Apr 13, 2012 10:03 AM PT

Upscale retailer Nordstrom has become known for its advanced online initiatives in recent years. However, the store chain is pushing the envelope in this area with an investment in Bonobos, an etailer that specializes in well-tailored men's pants. The intriguing part of this investment, which reportedly totals US$16.4 million, is that Nordstrom will sell Bonobos clothes in 100 of its stores, as well as on Nordstrom.com.

Nordstrom Tries On Bonobos for Size

The benefits to each of the retailers are clear: Bonobos gets access to Nordstrom's brand name and reach. It also will be able to tap a new type of customer -- the man who likes to actually try on his pants before buying. Nordstrom gets access to Bonobos' Internet retailing and marketing savvy.

A Longer Development Runway

There will be other advantages, especially for Bonobos, CorraTech COO Michael Harvey told the E-Commerce Times.

"The cash infusion will allow Bonobos to try out all sorts of innovative online initiatives it has wanted to but couldn't," he said. "It is going to give Bonobos a development runway it hasn't had to date."

Cross-Pollinating Bricks and Mortar

However, it is important not to overlook the advantages to Nordstrom -- and perhaps brick-and-mortar retailers in general, Harvey continued.

It is no secret that brick-and-mortar retailers, even those with online operations, have been feeling the sting of online competition. The savvier ones, such as Nordstrom, have been keeping pace with etail initiatives. However, as examples like Best Buy illustrate, these initiatives are often not enough.

"Collaboration between these two types of retailers is what is needed," Harvey said. Companies can learn to adopt the best practices of each channel -- brick-and-mortar retailers learning and adopting what works best in the online space and vice versa for online retailers."

Surprising Synergies

There can be surprising synergies between the two seemingly disparate models of store vs. online sales, Frederic Brunel, an associate professor at Boston University, told the E-Commerce Times.

Despite all the woe the e-commerce model has caused traditional retailers, "a pure-play online retail strategy -- let's face it -- can be very limited in scope," he said.

Customers for online apparel retailers, at the very least, miss the practicality of trying on clothing before deciding to buy. Certainly they miss the convenience of returning an item to a retail center five minutes away.

There is also a customer service element that is missing with many -- but not all -- online retailers. Bonobos has a good reputation in this area, Brunel said, and joining forces with Nordstrom will only enhance it.

For its part, Nordstrom now can offer the customization and personalization in this line of pants that Bonobos offers online.

It also will give its own e-commerce strategy a boost. While the company has made several important strides -- acquiring flash site retailer HauteLook and introducing same-day shipping for some of its online items -- few would place Nordstrom.com in the same realm as Amazon or Zappos.

"There is definitely room for improvement with Nordstrom.com," Brunel said.

Full Circle

In short, it is an equally smart move for both retailers, Phyllis Dealy, a partner at Woods Witt Dealy & Sons, told the E-Commerce Times.

It's also another example of how technology continues to break apart traditional boundaries and roles.

"Multichannel doesn't just mean the transition from offline to online but is now coming full circle and going from online to offline," Dealy observed. "That's really what's interesting here."

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