Involving Customers in Decision Making (Or, what will Nordstrom do?)

Nordstrom did a good thing today – they used social networking (in this case, Facebook) to apologize to users that their site was down. Open communication is good, and letting your biggest fans know when there’s a glitch is usually appreciated. But then I noticed something in the comments. Out of about 55 comments to-date (as of 4:00 p.m. EST), most had nothing to do with frustration around the site being down, but rather, frustration around the new site design itself. Take a look:

The complaints center mostly on the navigation of the site, difficulty in using it and an overwhelming opinion (of those commenting) that the old site was preferred. So far, Nordstrom’s has yet to respond to any of these comments in the chain. It will be an interesting experiment to see how they handle such feedback. It begs some questions:

- Changing website design is no small undertaking from a time or resource POV. With social media allowing our customers to comment openly on everything that we do, should we give them the opportunity to help shape such changes before we make them? Would Nordstrom – and its customers – have benefited from a customer council that had a hand in shaping the new design before it was complete?

- Should a brand involve customers in product, marketing and branding decisions?

- How beneficial is it to a consumer-facing brand like Nordstrom vs a B2B brand to embrace a customer council? (Often, customers drive software development, for example, by requesting features. Should a company like Nordstrom consider such thinking?)

- Will Nordstrom make any changes as a result? Or hope that the customers will simply “get used to it?”

What do you think? What would you do if you were Nordstrom? Keeping in mind that you can never please everyone, has your company involved customers in shaping and testing the direction of your products or brand? Why or why not?

  • Mike Volpe – HubSpot

    Customer almost always prefer the “old” version of a website until they get used to the new version. Sometimes you can react to customers too much, and then you never make any truly breakthrough improvements.

  • Justin Johnson

    Being able to describe the shopping experience before and after the site redesign is something I can’t do – since I never visited their site prior to the redesign.

    I can say that after visiting some sites about the redesign is that the dissatisfaction reaches much further than this Facebook comment thread. Nordstrom’s is getting pounded on this across the social media spectrum.

    Even Nordstrom’s own blog is littered with negative and often times venomous feedback.
    http://blogs.nordstrom.com/?p=7#comments

    The things we know:
    This is the first major redesign in ten years.
    This redesign took 4 years to develop.
    Technologically their is some great new features including a complete revamp of their inventory/warehousing system to marry offline and online retail.

    The things they have to ask themselves:

    1) Is this a situation of repeated learned behavior versus adapting to a new and better system? Old habits are hard to change even if they are bad ones. Some of these users could have been shopping on this site for 10 years prior to the update. We see this on Facebook all the time when Mark Zuckerberg moves the SuperPoke module somewhere unexpected users freak out! Ultimately, the move usually makes things better once users learn the new interface.

    2) Should they have asked for more consumer advice during the rebuilding process? You would have to think that somewhere in the 4 years they had some usability testing. Apple would say no – they didn’t ask people what they desired in a phone in order to come up with the iPhone. People couldn’t have envisioned what would become the iPhone.

    3) Nordstrom.com makes a ton of money even though it isn’t broken out in its own revenue stream in their annual report. How many quarters do they give themselves to analyze the increase or decrease in online revenue? That will be the true test of success. Do sales decline immediately but start trending upward? How long does this take?

    4) What can they do immediately for those that are frustrated? The frustrated are those that have frequented their site often and for a fairly long period of time. These people are their core customers. They need to know that they are valued and their voices are being heard. 1) I would offer them a gift card to redeem on the new online store. This would give shoppers an incentive to use and familiarize themselves with the new design. 2) After entering their purchase, I would give them an additional percentage of savings if they answered a short survey that specifically asked them what they liked/disliked about the new site. This would give Nordstrom’s real-time feedback from those that they should value the most. This feedback would come immediately after the purchase so the experience is still fresh on their mind.

    They need to engage. Their site theme is all about the experience and joining the conversation.

    “So we did. Welcome to our new site and our newest space for building our online community—Conversation.”

    There are a couple criticism deflecting responses by the blog editor (not an executive level PR professional) http://blogs.nordstrom.com/?p=7#comments. The blog editor suggests they call a 1-888 and talk to customer service to help them use the site.

    To wrap up I love this comment by one user:

    “To Jeff the Blog Editor: I feel sorry for you since I know you have to monitor this stuff, but, CLEARLY, the majority of posts are telling you the new site is a failure. Your suggestions for navigation and live chat miss the mark: the beauty of shopping on line is ease of navigation and the solitude to enjoy browsing. Someone in management better have the nerve to pull the plug on this mistake.”

    From the looks of it they need an online crisis management plan asap. The negative feedback is spreading quickly and it doesn’t look like they have a PR plan in place to help slow it down.

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