Nordstrom Offers Free Shipping and Returns

Discussion
Aug 30, 2011
George Anderson

Free shipping is pretty much a given at this point for online purchases as consumers factor in the cost of delivery in their buying decisions. For a small number of e-tail operations — L.L. Bean and Zappos spring to mind — free returns are part of the exceptional customer service that consumers have come to expect.

A number of traditional retailers charge for returns via the mail, but don’t apply a fee when online orders are brought back to stores. Ninety-three percent of respondents to a RetailWire poll in March said being able to make returns of online orders to stores was a competitive advantage.

Now, Nordstrom is going one better by offering free shipping and returns on all online purchases, regardless of size.

"Free shipping is reflective of how customers increasingly want to shop online and we hope this change makes it easier and more convenient to shop with us. We look forward to adding more features and functionality as we continue to improve the online experience," said Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Direct, in a press release.

Nordstrom, which had previously offered free shipping on orders of at least $200, positioned the change as another step in its goal "to provide a more compelling online experience."

The chain pointed to m-commerce initiatives, improved search on Nordstrom.com and access to in-store inventory levels as other steps it has taken in the recent past to make it a preferred shopping destination online.

Discussion Questions: What will the offer of free shipping and returns on all online orders mean for Nordstrom’s reputation for customer service? Is the combination of free shipping and returns going to become commonplace in online retail anytime soon?

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18 Comments on "Nordstrom Offers Free Shipping and Returns"


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Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Free shipping has become a “needed to play” service — it is expected and without it, a retailer attempting to do business online is a service competitive disadvantage. Free returns have become a “needed to win” service. Add to that a no minimum purchase requirement can only enhance Nordstrom’s reputation for customer service.

As it took time for free shipping to become standard, it will take time for free returns to be part of the way online shopping is done. It will take even more time for there not to be a purchase minimum requirement to get free returns.

The real question is it truly free or will retailers find a way to cover the cost.

Justin Time
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I go out of my way to find online merchants that offer free shipping with no minimum or for a $25 minimum purchase. These are the ones I stay with, through thick and thin.

The web site I have found most confusing is Sears/Kmart. I most often leave my online basket abandoned because they never live up to their promises of free shipping with minimum purchase. You can never combine merchandise items from their separate stores, even though everything is lumped together on their web pages.

I do like that Amazon is now including more affiliated merchants in their free shipping with a $25 minimum offer, especially clothing merchants. I really can’t see ever paying shipping for clothing.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Any retailer who wants to be serious about the online business will ultimately offer free shipping and free returns. It is just a matter of logistics and pricing.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Customers expect excellent service from Nordstrom. Free shipping and free returns are part of this service. It’s a wise move by Nordstrom, which competes with online powerhouse Zappos, the leader in online customer service.

Other online merchants should take a hard look at free returns. Many currently offer it, and it may soon become a consumer expectation.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
9 years 8 months ago

This is a great way for Nords to differentiate itself from it’s competitors. Will it become commonplace? Nords sells to a different batch of customers — ones where the average ticket may be well over $500. Discount websites that sell on price cannot afford to take a hit on shipping (especially a return). In my experience, I find that the line separating a Nordstrom.com and a Walmart.com is slowly disappearing as the actual shopping experience is virtually eliminated.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This is a desperately needed move by Nordstrom to bring themselves current with the Internet standard. Nordstrom is a company that has been built on customer satisfaction, and that they have waited this long to make this move is incredible considering their company’s culture and customer focus.

Arthur Rosenberg
Guest
Arthur Rosenberg
9 years 8 months ago

Sadly, too many companies see charging for returns as a profit center. This is especially true of the television shopping networks who often prompt viewers to buy as they proudly claim 30 days to return products and even offer a simple but often costly return process. Actually this is a government mandate. I have read that, in reality, customers often have several days less as the 30 days often begins on the day the product was shipped. These customers feel stuck and can only post angry letters.

A friend’s uncle bought a wide screen TV. Imagine the return shipping charge if the quality of this no name was lacking, much less lugging it to a post office.

There is money to be made from returns. Customers must be smart enough to avoid the likelihood of such scams.

Tim Smith
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Free returns should be offered when the retailer makes a mistake, wrong color, size, model, etc. If I order something and then decide I don’t like it, the return shipping should be on me, a risk of buying online. Retailers who make their sites visually easy to shop and see the product will win.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Retailing is a “me too” business. If one sees a competitor taking an aggressive step to increase business, the others are surely going to follow. “Hey, I want to play too!”

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Free shipping both ways is not going to be an option. If you want to be in the game at all it is something you are going to need to offer as a retailer.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Free shipping — and free returns! — make the brain’s ancient medulla oblongata light up like a Christmas tree. And given unpredictable apparel sizes, they make shopping at Nordstrom a slam dunk. Will other retailers make the switch?

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The Japanese call it “Kaizen,” the practice of continuous improvement. Nordstrom, as the recognized service leader in the department store category, must continually one-up its department store competition in regards to service.

However, service is rarely a differentiator. It is subjective and too easily knocked-off. This is particularly the case when you move out of the department store category and move into the new and ever-changing standards of the internet.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I’ve said it here before but free shipping is a no brainer. Do you see “shipping” as a cost on any of the shirts / skirts / apparel at Macy’s (for example)? No, but there’s shipping costs built in to that price, you can be sure of that. We all know it, consumer and retailer alike.

That’s exactly how online shipping should be paid for by retailers in the future; just build it into the cost. Stop talking about it, you’ve got Amazon to compete with!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Suffice it to say, most retailers won’t be offering “exceptional” service – that’s why it’s called as such – but whether or not free returns remain within this category depends a lot upon the nature of what is being sold. Nothing is really free of course; shipping and handling is simply built into the cost of the sales price, so expect to pay (both coming and going) for rush orders and bulk goods. The rest, I suspect, will become gratis…ostensibly, that is.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Nordstrom’s origin is shoes. The standard set in that arena online is by Zappos. Furthermore, it’s just the standard that is being set. Even if it’s not for all customers, it’s being offered for preferred customers. If you’re going to play in the ecosystem of online retailing, it’s simply going to be the standard offering that all top retailers must provide.

The real question is how to differentiate beyond that now that the playing field is being leveled by most key players.

What the next thing is – who knows, but there will now need to be a further differentiator to single out those that are superior.

Whether it’s free both ways and beyond, whatever it is has to be executed well.

Zappos has this nailed. Keep in mind that just saying you do it doesn’t mean you do it well. I’m not suggesting Nordstrom won’t. I am saying that it matters.

Gary Chatman
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Online retailers are recognizing the advantages of a “last mile” strategy. Nordstrom’s reputation for customer service is clearly enhanced.

Shoppers find the trip to the store and slow checkout as the least fun part of the shopping experience. Apps for fitting, availability, cost comparison and — in this case — free shipping beats looking for a parking space.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 8 months ago

Free shipping and free returns for e-commerce purchases are great for most products. But, for products that are biologic or biologically-influential, verification of delivery time – with a signature – is incredibly important. This establishes a timing continuum necessary for success, but it’s also expensive, especially for international shipments. That’s one of the kinds of e-businesses in which I’m involved, and we’re always testing price elasticity that would allow free shipping. Any input is welcomed.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
9 years 8 months ago

Wow, free shipping and returns. Another reason to shop Nordstrom’s and a competitive advantage.

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