Nordstrom’s Gemma Lionello on Keeping Up With Changing Consumers

Coming off a year of seismic shifts in consumer behavior, Nordstrom kept pace by going back to basics and looking at business from a consumer perspective.

“Our number-one goal has always been to give great service and help the customer look and feel their best, so we put everything we do through the lens of the customer,” said Gemma Lionello, executive vice president, general merchandise manager, beauty and accessories at Nordstrom, in conversation with WWD’s senior editor Allison Collins during Beauty Inc @20.

Lasting changes that have particularly impacted Lionello’s strategy include the evolution of omnichannel shoppers and the importance of in-store experiences. “Customers don’t like shopping on one particular channel, and they really like to connect on an emotional level. We like to differentiate ourselves with beauty services and events, free services, sampling and branded experts,” she said.

“The bar is high with the consumer that expects something with speed or if they want a service, brand expertise. It’s important for us to meet and anticipate these needs,” Lionello continued.

The retailer’s beauty assortment has also evolved to include new categories within wellness. “We like to test and learn new categories, and self care has been a really important one. We’ve been involved for many years, starting with expanding our tools offering years back, then we went into ingestibles because customers want a curated point of view from our Nordstrom beauty team,” Lionello said. “Most recently in January, we expanded into sexual wellness. These are new categories for us, and as far as what we have a license to sell, we do our research and we listen to the customer. If we like a product, and the customer wants it, we will sell it.”

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Lionello said Nordstrom is also witnessing the hair care boom. “Hair care is another great example where customers keep voting for more hair care, all the way to super luxury price points. It’s very Nordstrom to have high-low, and to give the customer a choice to shop that way,” she said.

Part of Nordstrom’s strategy for reaching consumers is through experience, and the pandemic also caused Lionello to reconsider how it brings events to customers. “We launched our livestream event platform. We have always prided ourselves on offering great events for our customers, but when our stores shut, we had to pivot,” she said. “Customers are voting for them and can answer them easily, but we’re also going to reintroduce the events that they love.”

The company is also still largely driven by its values, Lionello said, which have spanned to include diversity and sustainability. “In the past year, we [started carrying] 20 Black-founded brands, including Uoma Beauty. It’s important for us to constantly evolve and, for us, it’s a journey — it’s not something where we’re checking off a box,” she said.

Sustainability also remained a high priority, given Nordstrom’s partnership with TerraCycle it introduced last year. “Sustainability is also very important for Nordstrom beauty. As a retailer, we have to meet our customer’s values,” Lionello said.


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