Nobody’s perfect, not even the nation’s most admired luxury retailer.

For decades, the Seattle retailer’s name—Nordstrom—has been elevated to near-legendary standards for customer care (“I got the Nordstrom treatment!”).

But when Nordstrom installed new customer-tracking technology in its Portland, Oregon, store (White Horse’s Productions’ hometown), it made a rare misstep.

Even though the company disclosed the use in a sign on the window and in the privacy policy on its website, these measures clearly weren’t sufficient and upset customers complained to a TV news channel.

Nordstrom did wrong, even though they tried to do right.

And while Nordstrom has more than enough brand goodwill on deposit in shoppers’ emotional bank accounts to weather this mistake easily, it could have been avoided.

What Happened?

Nordstrom hasn’t disclosed exactly how they use Palo Alto-based Euclid’s tracking technology (currently in just 20 stores nationwide), but  helps their other retail clients measure the effectiveness of store layouts, signs, displays, and other elements encountered by shoppers as they make their way through shopping malls, stores, and other areas equipped with Wi-Fi.

When a smartphone with Wi-Fi enters an area monitored by Euclid, the system is able to use the wireless signal to track the shopper’s location—where they roam, where they pause, how long they spend in a particular spot, such as the café or cosmetics counter.

The Good

To its credit, Nordstrom disclosed the use of this tracking system on its store premises and on its website; it may not have been legally required to do so, since none of the information collected by Euclid (at least, according to Euclid’s site) contains anything sufficient to identify a specific individual. They don’t collect phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or credit card numbers. But Nordstrom put up the signs and added some language to its privacy policy anyway.

The Bad

The signs posted at the store were not prominent, and the language on them was sufficiently vague to obscure what was going on. Similarly, the language on the privacy policy is so laden with technology geek-speak, few customers outside Silicon Valley would be able to make an informed decision about the implications of Euclid.

The Ugly

Customers who noticed the signs didn’t like what they read and went to the press, which made for the ingredients for a juicy story. “Customer-Service Giant Nordstrom Secretly Tracking Shoppers” is not a positive headline; it’s the retail equivalent of a congressman who denounces government spending asking for funds for maple syrup research.


Here at White Horse …

White Horse folks love Nordstrom—we shop there (oh, do we ever shop there!)—and see this as the aberration it is. Nordstrom has earned its reputation for quality and customer service.

That’s why this is a good case to reflect on; we believe we share some of the same values Nordstrom does, and we need to be constantly vigilant to examine our approach to things to make sure we don’t do wrong while trying to do right.

We also love our clients and in the course of our engagement with them, we help them stay on the lookout for inadvertent errors as well.

Our Values

  • Client (customer) focus: Respect for customer privacy and security is designed, built, and delivered into everything we build for our clients. It can take 100 years to build a reputation such as Nordstrom’s, but only one serious mistake to do it harm. Fortunately, this was NOT a serious mistake, and Nordstrom is likely to take some good lessons away from this experience.
  • Open and honest relationships: We depend on them with our co-workers and clients and believe this is the best policy for our customers who use the tools we deliver. Disclose what you collect. Let customers choose what to share with you. Collect only what you need, protect it while you have it, and dispose of it when it’s no longer needed.