Nordstrom Wants You to Browse in Store, Then Buy Somewhere Else

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Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters

Normally, brick-and-mortar retailers do everything in their power to combat “showrooming,” the popular practice in which shoppers browse items in stores before buying them from another retailer—typically at a cheaper price. Under a new pilot program at Nordstrom, however, this behavior is being encouraged.

Blue Nile calls itself “the largest online retailer of certified diamonds and fine jewelry.” The company is based in Seattle, and it’s purely an e-commerce operation; there are no physical Blue Nile stores. But last month, a Blue Nile counter and display opened up inside the Wedding Suite, a section devoted to all things wedding in the downtown Seattle Nordstrom department store.

The Blue Nile display, which features 75 styles of engagement rings and 40 different wedding bands, is part of a new pilot program partnership with Nordstrom. A Blue Nile representative is on hand, iPad at the ready, to answer questions and help create customized rings. The “store within a store” concept is one that’s being optimized by many retailers, including Best Buy and J.C. Penney, but the Nordstrom-Blue Nile program is unusual for two reasons: 1) Nordstrom sells its own jewelry, so Blue Nile is essentially a competitor; and 2) shoppers can’t actually buy Blue Nile merchandise at a Nordstrom checkout area but must instead head to the Blue Nile website to place an order.

Why would Nordstrom want to be used so blatantly as a mere showroom for another retailer? For one thing, though the terms of the arrangement were not made public, Blue Nile most certainly is paying the department store for its prime retail space. The other reason for the partnership is that Nordstrom hopes it will attract new customers to check out its Wedding Suite area, where they’ll browse (and perhaps buy) wedding dresses, bridal gowns, and other items before or after checking out the jewelry from Blue Nile.

(MORE: Why Retailers Have Stopped Freaking Out About Showrooming)

“For us, the most exciting thing is the opportunity to meet new customers and introduce them to the Wedding Suite,” Shea Jensen, national weddings director at Nordstrom, said to the Seattle Times in an article about the unique Blue Nile-Nordstrom relationship.

For Blue Nile, the upsides for having a spot for customers to inspect jewelry up close and in person are obvious. “This is about seeing it, trying it on and generating interest for future purchases,” a Blue Nile spokesperson said.

For now, Blue Nile and Nordstrom have only agreed to a six-month engagement (so to speak) in a single store. But if all goes well, the program could expand to the 17 other Wedding Suite salons spread out in Nordstroms around the country.