Nordstrom’s customer service shows every employee’s a marketer

Nov 13, 2017

A guy walks into Nordstrom to return some tires.

(Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.)

It was 1975. Nordstrom had been founded in 1901 as a small Seattle shoe store, but was growing into a national clothing retailer. As part of their expansion, they acquired a company operating department stores, auto dealerships and tire centers in Alaska.

They turned one of those tire centers into their signature fashion store. So, when this old miner came in to get a refund on used tires, he was probably confused.

Nevertheless, a 16-year-old sales associate was happy to help. Since Nordstrom didn’t sell tires, the rep had to call a tire company to get a fair price. He gave the man $25, and thanked him for coming in.

Downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, where the legendary tire return occurred. Nordstrom closed that location in 1989.

Today, this is probably the most well-worn story of top-notch customer service. Because it’s so unexpected, media outlets and business schools can’t resist mentioning it.

You’ve probably heard many different versions of it. Snopes labels it as a legend, meaning while it may be based on actual events, the exact details are unverified and inconsistent.

Then again, the specifics don’t really matter. There are countless other stories of Nordstrom employees going above and beyond to make their customers feel welcomed and appreciated. In fact, there’s a whole book filled with them.

Nordstrom’s ranked as America’s top fashion retailer five years in a row, based on customer satisfaction and customer likelihood to refer the brand to others, according to an annual poll by Market Force Information.

All these stories do as much as or more than ads, press releases and social media accounts could ever do to promote the company. The customer experience builds loyalty and encourages referrals – exactly what a great marketing strategy should do.

Long story short: Nordstrom shows marketing isn’t confined to a particular department. If you want to maximize your chances of attracting new business, every employee needs to view themselves as marketers, working to build a positive perception through each customer interaction.


This article first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Lee Procida.

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