Nordstrom Reports 'What Can I Wear To Work?' Frenzy

The pandemic may have punished Nordstrom more than some other retailers, but the department store's style influence is back in business. The company reports a 165% increase in online searches for work clothes, and says 36% of the people in a recent customer study feel as if they don't have anything to wear.

Especially with its much-beloved Anniversary Sale just ahead, the retailer thinks it's especially well positioned to help millions of bereft consumers get the right look for going back to work.

It's a more complex task than just focusing on the season's new colors or silhouettes. People are eager to look up-to-date, but to feel as relaxed as they have in their work-at-home pajama pants, according to the study. Just over 40% say they intend to dress comfortably for the rest of their life, and 35% say they are more open to new styles.



"Coming out of the pandemic, people have a chance to reimagine what style means for them and become reacquainted with the joy of fashion," says Fanya Chandler, senior vice president at Nordstrom, in a report on survey results. "For some, that means adding more comfort to their wardrobe, even as they return to normal. Others are ready to emerge from their homes looking their best and trying something new."  

Based on 2,000 Americans, the survey also found that 36% haven't bought any work clothes since the pandemic started, and 40% feel stuck in a style rut. There's a fair amount of body anxiety, too, with 43% saying it's been a struggle to find the right fit, and 45% saying it's hard to find clothes that are flattering for their shape.

The survey validates some of the COVID-19 tactics the department store chain adopted, like the 40,000 salespeople videos it made, providing styling and product advice to customers shopping its website. Twenty-five percent of Nordstrom customers surveyed used one of those videos last year -- and were twice as likely to buy something as those that didn't.

Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale, an event its biggest fans dream about all year long, kicks off July 28 and runs through August  9, with card members gaining access on July 16. Video ads for the multibrand event are running now.

The company says it's making the annual event extra festive this year, welcoming customers back to more in-person events.

While the Seattle-based chain has been slower than many to recover from the pandemic, observers think the strength of its brand -- especially among affluent consumers -- gives it an edge.

"We believe Nordstrom continues to be a top operator in the competitive U.S. apparel market," writes David Swartz, who covers the company for Morningstar. The retailer has "cultivated a loyal customer base on its reputation for differentiated products and service. While the company was unprofitable in 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis, we believe that its brand, [an] intangible asset, has not been affected and that it will return to profitability in 2021."

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