A Lesson Learned in the Dressing Room at Nordstrom

There’s a sign outside most dressing rooms.  You’ve all seen it: “No more than 3 garments allowed in dressing rooms.” Sometimes the number changes, but the sign is almost always there.

But not at Nordstom. And therein lies the lesson.

When asked to explain why his stores do not set a limit on clothes taken back to the dressing rooms, John Nordstrom explained that, in retail, a small percentage of your customers, let’s say two percent, will steal from you. The policies of any given store can make the number a little less or a little more, but the loss will always hover around the same two percent. “Why,” he wondered, “should we make the other 98% of our customers feel like we don’t trust them, just for a chance at cutting into that 2%?”

I am often asked by clients to help them win the last war. They experienced a loss on a project or saw a loophole in their contract and vowed not to let that happen again. So, we sit in my conference room and plan our strategy.

Often, this proves to be a worthwhile exercise. There are those times, however, when the meeting arises out of the business equivalent of the Irish Sweepstakes. The circumstances surrounding my client’s loss formed a once-in-a-generation event which my client could not duplicate if it tried. But because of it, because of the still-fresh sting of it, my client wants to change well-considered company-wide procedures.

That’s when I tell them about the dressing rooms at Nordstrom. And I ask them to consider whether this change they’re contemplating is necessary to the health of the business as a whole or if it really just amounts to a lot of effort devoted to preventing something already rare and unlikely.

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