What The Launch Of Nordstrom.ca Will (and Won’t) Offer Men Searching For Style Online

While I would be heartbroken for any retailer who had planned to open a physical store this Spring, the launch of Nordstom’s Canadian web site could not be better timed.

After more than a month and a half of living under quarantine, we are quickly reaching that moment when even the men who don’t necessarily love fashion need to give their wardrobe at least a passing thought:

Do I have enough shorts, or did I just put away ones that were so over-worn they should have been tossed in a Goodwill bin? Do I have enough golf shirts and T-shirts? Do I still have at least one swimsuit, or did I lose it by the end of August (again)?

Nordstrom, which has had locations in Canada for several years now, made its first serious expansion here with the introduction of its discount brick-and-mortar cousin, Nordstrom Rack. The launch of Nordstrom.ca allows it to ensure the brand doesn’t get forgotten (or left out) amid COVID-19.

I’m certainly not immune to the occasional e-commerce splurge, so I decided to give Nordstrom.ca a try. What I found was . . .

A very serviceable web site to buy men’s clothes.

A site filled with pages upon pages of products.

A site that looks and feels almost exactly like TheBay.com.

This last point matters, because HBC will likely represent Nordstrom.ca’s primary online competitor. Unless I’m looking for a specialty item of some kind, the Bay is the first place I (and I’d argue most guys) would check first.

Here’s a glimpse at Nordstrom.ca’s Men’s section — clean, crisp in its black-and-white simplicity and easy to navigate:

And here’s The Bay’s Men’s area — clean, crisp in its black and white simplicity and easy to navigate. The only noticeable difference is the size of the pictures and the use of something other than a blank wall in the backgrounds:

Recent coverage of the Nordstrom.ca launch suggested the site would be a great way to discover Canadian brands such as Beaufille, Dean Davidson, Smythe and Christopher Bates. If there is local menswear available, however, it’s certainly not presented in any visible way.

I realize, of course, that most e-commerce sites have been laser-focused on ensuring they’re optimized to have their products easily found through search engines like Google. And until recently, all I would have cared about is whether I could easily look up what I wanted on Nordstrom.ca (which I can).

At the moment, however, our digital-only existence means I – – and no doubt other guys — am ready to really browse around an online clothing retailer. By “browse,” however, I don’t mean scrolling endlessly or clicking the “next” button over and over again.

Just as my eyes would be drawn to that table near the front with featured items in a physical store, I want ideas. Both Nordstrom.ca and TheBay.ca acknowledge this with an area at the top left of their pages called “Men: Get Inspired.”

Here, however, the contrast is more striking. Here’s what Nordstom serves up — which looks pretty much the same as its main landing page:

Here’s HBC’s “Inspiration” area — where its collection is thoughtfully organized by genre and themes, rather than categories under “Shops & Guides”:

This is an example of what happens when you decide to pursue “The Designer Edit”:

I’ve been craving warmer weather so much that leather jackets had not been on my mind, but they are now.

Even as the government slowly allows more businesses, like retailers, to open their doors, the quality of their digital shopping experience will likely determine a great deal of their long-term survival.

Maybe most men will only come to a site like Nordstrom.ca with a specific product in mind, and its utilitarian site will give them what they want. A truly great online fashion site, though, should also make them aware of what they didn’t even know they wanted.

Nordstrom is good at this in the brick-and-mortar world. I’ve covered its pop-ups featuring special selections from Raf Simons and Helmut Lang for Swagger. Hopefully some of that curatorial approach will manifest itself on its Canadian web site soon.

To really compete with the Bay and others, though, I’d suggest taking a digital page from Mr. Porter’s Journal, where the menswear side of Net-a-Porter tells stories of all kinds that include links directly to clothing worn by interview subjects.

I may be biased since I do this kind of thing for tech brands, but it’s a way to really serve as less of a digital warehouse and something closer to a very tasteful, highly personable personal shopper.

As we all continue to stay at home, buying clothing has never been lonelier. Nordstrom would do well to not only offer a Canadian site that’s well laid-out, but that welcomes us with a degree of expertise that we won’t find elsewhere.

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