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Nordstrom: “We sell what sells, including Ivanka Trump”

Image: Nordstrom Web site

Should Nordstrom continue to carry Ivanka Trump merchandise? It sells. So Nordstrom will keep selling it. In its rambling email to employees, it wraps that fact in tissue paper and packing peanuts. Why not have the courage to tell the truth?

A friend of mine recently emailed Nordstrom to protest its decision to continue to sell Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories. In response, Nordstrom sent her a copy Pete Nordstrom’s 400-word email to its employees on the topic.

This is a fascinating piece of prose. You could sum it up in four words: we sell what sells. But Nordstrom wants to be oh-so-sensitive about this controversy (especially since its sales floor staff will be taking the brunt of the protests), so it surround the pure economics with a lot of sympathetic and ultimately meaningless language.

Here’s the email, with my translation.

We’ve been hearing feedback from customers and many of you about Nordstrom continuing to carry the Ivanka Trump brand. We want to share our thoughts on what has become a difficult topic.

Translation: We just stepped in something smelly.

We’ve offered the brand since 2009. Particularly in Shoes, it has grown to be a sizable and successful business at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack. However, in light of current events, carrying the Ivanka Trump line has become a sensitive and controversial subject for many. In our sincere effort not to make business decisions based on politics but on performance and results, we find ourselves in a very difficult position.

Translation: Ivanka Trump’s stuff sells. We sell what sells. But it’s okay, because we had to think about it first.

We’ve heard from customers, including some who are long time loyal customers, threatening a boycott of Nordstrom if we continue to carry the line. Similarly, we’ve heard from customers who say they will boycott Nordstrom if we stop carrying the brand. This is a sharply divisive subject. No matter what we do, we are going to end up disappointing some of our customers.

Translation: No matter what do, someone will hate us. So we sell what sells.

We’re doing our best to listen, and what we continue to share is this – we’re a public company retailer that sells shoes, cosmetics, accessories, and clothes. We’re doing what we’ve always done which is trying our best to offer a compelling range of brands and products. We hold our vendor partners accountable for the performance of their merchandise and being an ethical business partner. Ultimately, every single brand we offer is evaluated on their results – if people don’t buy it, we won’t sell it.

Translation: We sell what sells, as long as the vendor doesn’t kill baby seals.

We have been in business for 115 years and have worked very hard to earn a reputation of trust, fair dealings, and ethical behavior. We strive to be agnostic about politics and to treat all our customers with respect. This also holds true with how we value and treat employees.

Translation: We sell what sells, but we’re ethical and apolitical.

This has been a tough subject for us, and we know that a lot of you are dealing with it too – on the sales floor and with questions from friends or family. Thank you for hanging in there and continuing to do your best to take care of our customers. Also, we urge you to continue to take care of each other and treat your co-workers with empathy and respect.

Translation: Our job is to sell what sells. Yours is to deal with the consequences.

We continue to monitor this situation and if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to exercise our open door policy, and speak with your manager, HR, or any of our Executive Team leaders.


Translation: We sell what sells. Counseling available.

Why not say what you mean?

This was a fascinating piece of corporate communication. I don’t think this was a very hard decision for Nordstrom — lacking evidence that the Ivanka Trump line has violated any ethical standards, and with loud protests inevitable no matter what it does, Nordstrom made the decision based on data. I have no doubt that if the sales of the Ivanka Trump line drop, they’ll stop selling it.

So if it’s a simple business decision, why ramble on for 400 words?

Nordstrom wants to appear sympathetic to its staff.

Nordstrom wants to appear to have carefully considered the decision.

Nordstrom wants to be clear that it’s not political.

I sympathize. Would courage would be a better position than empathy? Here’s a shorter, alternate version: what do you think?

Subject: Decision to continue to carry Ivanka Trump line of products

We’ve heard from employees and customers about our carrying Ivanka Trump’s line of products. Here’s what you need to know about that decision:

  • We make decisions based on results, never on politics. Ivanka Trump’s line sells. We’ll keep selling it as long as it does.
  • We never take a political stand. Our job is to sell quality products with excellent service, not to participate in political debate.
  • We stop selling products if our vendors behave unethically in the way they manufacture products and conduct commerce. We have no evidence of such problems in the Ivanka Trump line.

I recognize that this decision won’t sit well with many of you — and many of our customers — but if we stopped selling Ms. Trump’s products, other employees and customers would be upset. People have threatened to boycott Nordstrom’s no matter which decision we make. In this situation, we put customers first, not politics.

If you get questions from customers, please refer them to policy and explain that we put customers first. The sales floor is no place for politics. That said, please let your manager know if there are problems — we want to know what’s actually happening on the sales floor, and you are our best source for that.

Thanks, and have a happy and successful holiday season.


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  1. I’ve read your posts regarding editing. May I recommend them to you also? Your typos are becoming distracting to me, and perhaps others, so those posts might be useful to you.

    1. I’ve made a conscious decision to prioritize speed over perfection. I’m a one-person operation, and hiring a copy editor/proofreader would slow me down.

      I accept the consequences of that choice, including notes like yours.

      When I create more important and less ephemeral pieces (books, contributed articles, marketing pieces), I alway use a copy editor.

      Feel free to point out the typos. I’d be sad to lose you as a reader.

  2. oh, dear. i love nordie’s. and i own beautiful pair of ivanka trump pumps that i bought before her dad decided to run. i have tried to separate ivanka from the donald-but i realized that i can’t do it, especially when i found out that her company steals designs from other companies and passes them off as their own. like father, like daughter, unfortunately. i won’t be going back to nordie’s any time soon, unless they sever this relationship.

    1. Fair enough. Full disclosure — I bought a Donald Trump shirt from Macy’s long before the Donald decided to try to be president. I was in a hurry and needed French cuffs — it was the only one available.

      It was not a very good shirt.

    2. You do realize that is how ALL fashion brands work, right? There are no “unique” designs in department stores – they are all modified or outright stolen from couture designers, and depending on how “high end” the brand is, the faster you will see those designer replications in stores. To speed this up, many brands you would recognize purchase designs from vendors, who are selling the same or slightly modified designs to other brands, and then start the manufacturing process. If you don’t like Ms. Trump, surely you will be able to find a similar brand with similar styles because that’s how the modern fashion retail world works.

      1. yes, but in ivanka’s case, she has been asked by at least one designer to cease and desist, and she has been sued. it’s theft of intellectual property unless there is a substantial modification… if they purchase the designs, i have no problem.

  3. Josh, I rarely disagree with you, and in fact prefer your re-write on this subject. But I think there is another requirement that “Pete” is covering: giving the employees specific words, phrases, and emotion–the talking points–to respond to customers when the inevitable discussion arises. This is more important “on the floor” than the actual truth of “we sell what sells.”

    As for the people thinking of boycotting Nordstrom’s over this: just don’t buy any Ivanka product, that will send the message to Nordstrom and they will drop the line when it doesn’t met sales goals. This will happen very quickly and very quietly, achieving your desired result. Ivanka will either take a return or those products will appear in The Rack.

  4. What I find interesting/hypocritical about the handling of Ivank’s line – is Nordstrom may discontinue lines but without making such a public statement. Do what you may to protect sales – but don’t trat us like we’re stupid and we don’t see how this was handled differently. Political statements in the retail realm are not where I want the profit dollars – built into the price I pay – to be made.

    What makes Nordstrom think I like what they sell and ow they advertise? Maybe they should sell what I want because I’m the customer. Don’t sell me your political statements.