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Nordstrom vows no ‘lite’ version of retailer when it launches in Canada

Shoppers enter the Nordstrom store located at the Somerset Collection in Troy, Mich., in this file photo.

Gary Malerba/AP

Nordstrom Canada president Karen McKibbin pledged that she will not bring "Nordstrom Lite" here when it arrives in 2014.

Canadian consumers have told her to bring the full Nordstrom experience to Canada, rather than a watered down version, she told a Retail Council of Canada conference on Wednesday morning.

"We have no appetite for Nordstrom Lite,'" she said she has been told by consumers.

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Her comments are similar to those of U.S. discounter Target Corp. executives before it started to open its first stores in Canada in March. They pledged they would not bring "Target Lite" to Canada. Even so, customers have complained that Target's prices on some goods are higher than those of comparable items in its US stores.

Ms. McKibbin said it appears that some prices at Nordstrom Canada will be higher than those in its U.S. stores, because of factors such as steeper duties and taxes here. She said it was too early to provide more details.

"We're going to do everything we can to minimize that," she said of some anticipated higher prices in Canada. "And I don't want you to think that's lip service. We're really hard at work at this problem now. We know it's top of mind with Canada so it's top of mind with us."

She also said that Nordstrom will not be "undersold" on comparable products by rivals, which means it won't sell items at higher prices than competitors here.

Upscale Nordstom plans eight to 10 stores in Canada, and 15 to 20 of its lower-cost Rack outlets here in the coming years, she said. Its first five stores will be in Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto.

And while Nordstrom is known as a high-end department store chain, Ms. McKibbin said she wants to spread the word that it carries a mix of "high-low" merchandise, with affordable lines also, especially under its own brand.

The retailer has even dropped live classical music, played on grand pianos, at many of its U.S. stores, as a reflection of its ability to adapt to changing tastes and a wider range of customers. It now pipes in modern music to most of its stores, and will do so in Canada.

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It learned from its experience in Boston - where it launched in 2007 - that it needs to portray a more accessible image, she said later. She headed that U.S. region at the time when the chain struggled with an image of being only for the wealthy shopper.

In Canada, it will launch an advertising campaign by next fall, a year before the first store opens in the Chinook shopping centre in Calgary in the fall of 2014. That's a departure from its practice of running little advertising in the US, depending on word of mouth, and ads just a month before a new store opening.

Another departure in Canada will be hiring local staff for its store leadership positions, and sending them to its head office in Seattle for about three months of training. Nordstrom usually promotes its existing store managers to top jobs at new stores.

"These will be Canadian stores run by Canadians," she said.

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About the Author
Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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