Nordstrom's social media tentacles, meanwhile, extend to Pinterest, the popular online bulletin board; Instagram, a photo-sharing site purchased in April by Facebook; and Polyvore, a site for fashionistas. The company is also exploring a presence on fashion sites thefancy.com and pose.com, as well as Tumblr. "Social media is a very broad subject—some people look at it as, 'If you have a Facebook page, then you've got a social media strategy.' I think that's a little shortsighted," Nordstrom says.
[In Pictures: The 10 Youngest Billionaires in the World.]
Among its competitors, Macy's is widely viewed as the most proactive when it comes to deploying new technologies. Stroll through a Macy's and you'll run across "Macy's Backstage Pass" displays featuring large codes that can be activated by customers with smartphones to instantly view videos containing product information and fashion tips from designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Martha Stewart. Underscoring just how new the technology is, at a Macy's in northern Virginia just outside Washington, DC, a few sales clerks were unaware the codes were in their stores and were not familiar with how to use them. Like Nordstrom, the company draws praise for its use of the Web and mobile communications to expand shopping options.
Nordstrom says he tries to keep in perspective the changes rippling through his industry. "We've been in business for 111 years," he emphasizes, sharing that as he grew up, he heard plenty of horror stories about emerging new competitors angling to topple the family business. "We have to remind ourselves on a daily basis that if we're not listening to the customer, then we're probably not going to make a good decision—so that's our focus."