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Nordstrom Signs Lose Sales and Customers

I vacationed in beautiful Honolulu last week. To stay away from the sun’s rays for a few hours, I traveled to the fashionable Ala Moana shopping center. I was curious to see whether Nordstrom, one of my favorite stores, would feature Hawaiian designers.

From the parking lot, I followed an elevator, steps, an escalator, and signs to Nordstrom. When I arrived at the store entrance, locked doors and this sign faced me:

Nordstrom 2

Closed until March 11? How could that be? I was there on March 5 hoping to buy something special.

Like me, other people walked away, surprised and disappointed. But I knew that Nordstrom had been open a few days earlier because my daughter told me she had stopped in. That sign and others just didn’t make sense.

Nordstrom 3
It turns out that the locked doors and signs inviting shoppers to return in a few days were on the NEW Nordstrom store. In another section of the shopping center minutes away, the OLD Nordstrom stood open for business.

What do Nordstrom’s signs have to teach us about business writing? They don’t answer readers’ questions. Readers are wondering not only Why are the doors locked? They want to know Can I shop today? If so, how? Where? 

When we don’t consider our readers’ questions, we often lose sales and opportunities. Nordstrom did not intend to turn away business from the many travelers who did not know about the old Nordstrom location. Yet not providing more information caused readers to assume that they could not shop on a busy Saturday when they were ready to spend money.

As a business writer, if you forget to tell readers the time of an event, they may skip the event rather than do research to find out when it begins and ends. If you hide pricing, readers may choose another company’s website rather than dig for prices. If you overlook a reader’s stated question in an email, you may slow a process that you hoped would sail along.

Think about your readers’ questions. Also think about what you want readers to do. Nordstrom no doubt wanted shoppers to “Join us opening day” AND to shop at the old location as along as possible. Adding the sentence “Shop at our location at _______ until then” would have sold more products and satisfied more customers.

The story ends happily for me: Persisting until I found Nordstrom in its old location, I bought new tops from Hawaiian designers Lynn Sakutori and Allison Izu.

Have business writers let you down by telling only part of the story? I welcome your comments.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

14 comments on “Nordstrom Signs Lose Sales and Customers”

  • Lynn!
    Hope you had a nice vacation. I wait for your new posts almost like I wait for a pay-day. Oh gosh, I sound desperate! I just enjoy the way you teach, and I know if I had you as a teacher while I was young, I would’ve better grades in English. As I have said to you before, English is my second language and writing to you intimidates me to no end. That is why I don’t comment often.

    I know I have let some readers down by telling only part of a story, or giving then incorrect facts. Today I was asked to create an invitation for a meeting on Tuesday, March 28. I did an excellent job with the images and the content used in my invitation. It was perfect, but this year, Tuesday happens to be the 29. No damage was done–this time–I corrected the error, and I should see happy faces on Tuesday, March 29. Thank you for the time you put in your blog!

  • Hi Carlos,

    In my experience, a mismatch between the date and the day of the week is the most common proofreading error. You are not alone!

    I am happy to know that you find the blog valuable. Thanks for sharing your feedback.


  • Every year I get an invite from someone saying that they’d like to invite us over for Easter dinner.

    Not being Christian, and Easter being a floating holiday date-wise, every year I have to go find out when Easter is (it helps that it’s always Sunday!).

    Not the biggest challenge I face, but a good example of missing data.

  • mam,
    I am facing nearly the same situation, as I wants to buy a new laptop and for this I have to send letters for the quotations and wants to enquiry as well .
    So, can I write both the letters in single one or just have to double my work. I am confused whether the letter should contain the information regarding laptop which I want or asking about which kind of laptop suits me and will help me in my work.
    please help me regarding this problem.

  • Ankit,

    I believe both writers and readers need to do their job. As a potential customer and the writer, you need to do the job of researching the kind of computer you want. Plenty of information is available online. Writing to a company that sells computers and asking them what you need is not likely to get a good response because it requires too much of the other person, the reader.

    When you know what kind of computer you want, you can then ask for a price quotation.

    If you do decide to ask for help deciding which computer you need, tell your reader the amount of money you are willing to spend. That information will help you get a realistic recommendation.

    I don’t know where you live, but you might shop for a computer in a store, where sales staff are available to tell you about the features of their computers that are suitable for your needs. Neither person would have to take the time to write.


  • Hi Howard,

    Yes, Nordstrom typically provides the peek of customer service. This was one of those writing situations where a small but important point was missed.

    I love Nordstrom, and I am sure you know that the purpose of this piece was not to criticize. It was to help others avoid the same issue in their writing.


  • Hi Lynn,
    As an aside, I’m sure you would have written on this topic before – where details should be included in an email invitation. For example, I recently received an email invitation to an event. I had to go all the way into an attachment to find out the time, date and venue. This frustration was compounded when I was leaving home to go to the event, and I had to open the attachment on my phone to find the venue (having omitted it when adding the event to my calendar). I prefer to see the time and date in the subject line if possible, and the venue in the body of the email. And all of that detail repeated in the attachment if someone has done a flashy/informative attachment.

    By the way, when I saw your photo, I thought you were going to be down on Nordstrom for the missing words in their uncomfortable phrase “JOIN US OPENING DAY”. I just feel the need to an ‘on’ in the middle. Or a rearrangement to “OPENING DAY – JOIN US”, as I prefer to conclude with an invitation.


  • Hi Geoff,

    Thanks so much for your example of frustration caused by an email that didn’t think about its readers’ needs. You have inspired me to write on that topic in the future.

    I forgive Nordstrom for leaving out the preposition on its signs. Although I would have included “on,” as you would, for a sign I believe that cut is acceptable. I have written about not leaving out prepositions in sentences here:


  • Hi Lynn,
    I’m an avid follower of your blog spot and this problem of yours came to my attention. I am currently in the same dilemma. I’m hosting a fund raiser party for an orphanage and sending invitations through e-mail. However I have no clue on whether to put the date, time, venue in the e-mail even when it is already present in the attachment as people tend to focus on the immediate stuff rather than wasting their time in reading the attachment. This is my first fund raiser programme, hence I’m not sure what to do.

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