Case Study: Nordstrom

Inspiring a new generation of shoppers to seek “self-care” inside a Nordstrom store.

By now, Nordstrom’s customer service is almost mythical. And, it’s this incredible reputation that has helped preserve it as a destination for those seeking the almost nostalgic shopping satisfaction that comes from wandering a department store, activating your senses, and projecting into aspirational versions of yourself. The cosmetics counter has long been the bedrock of the in-store experience, but how does it figure into a younger generation’s demand for this relatively new marketplace of “self-care”?

And what exactly is self-care to young women? Beyond skin care and beauty products, what else in the Nordstrom assortment can be interpreted as self-care?

The Experience Innovation Team at Nordstrom needed to create relevant self-care moments with young women – many who as children shopped there with their mothers and were becoming mothers themselves. They also needed to find a unique foothold in the category that fit the brand’s equity in the shopper relationship.

We were asked to develop an insight-driven self-care concept that could be rapidly deployed and tested within their innovation process. To accompany their quantitative data, we developed a 3-pronged approach to gathering primary qualitative research: define self-care, calibrate brand fit, audit adjacent retail innovation experiences. To define the contours of the meaning of “self-care”, we used the Dscout platform to recruit across a large geographic area, engage with shoppers directly, and collect self-reported photo/video artifacts. To level set against Nordstrom fit, we conducted roundtables with beauty/wellness Influencers. Finally, in order to audit retail innovation, we introduced the Team to the basics of semiotics and the RDE framework as a tool to consistently report on what they were seeing in market.

What emerged from analysis was a key qualitative insight, substantiated with hard numbers.


We learned that self-care was often thought of specifically in terms of women’s wellbeing: menstrual health, sexual pleasure, libido, fertility, early motherhood. Equally, many of these young women fondly recalled going to Nordstrom to get their first bra with their mothers – a personal and meaningful retail experience. When we mapped this shopping memory onto their very intimate version of self-care, we realized that Nordstrom has something other brands don’t – customer trust, approachable personnel, and lots of safe/private physical space.

From there, we overlayed an analysis of VC funding pouring into FemTech and women’s wellness. From period panties, to cramp chocolates, to nursing products, a new and relevant self-care product assortment concept was born. Underutilized square feet on the third floor can be reimagined as the contemporary version of buying "the first bra" -- a place where young mothers and daughters can connect and learn about innovations in women's wellness and Nordstrom elevates its equity once again as the customer-focused retailer. Nordstrom is currently testing our concept that includes this exclusive relationship with Thinx.

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