Vying for Twentysomethings, Nordstrom Advances Asos Partnership

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Nordstrom Inc. has scaled up its partnership with the trendy British fashion brand Asos.

Ten Nordstrom doors, including The Grove in Los Angeles and the Manhattan 57th Street women’s flagship and neighboring men’s store, have begun to sell the Asos collection. Nordstrom doors in Bellevue, Wash.; Chicago; Dallas; Aventura, Fla.; Scottsdale, Ariz., and Brea and San Diego, Calif., are also carrying Asos, and the offering on nordstrom.com has been vastly expanded.

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Effective Friday, Nordstrom introduced more than 650 styles, with most products priced under $100. Sizing is inclusive, ranging from 00 to 26. Each month, Nordstrom will introduce hundreds of new Asos styles, both in-stores and online.

The strategy is a concerted bid to attract new customers, specifically twentysomethings, with trendy and edgier fashion. It’s also a reflection of Nordstrom developing new kinds of relationship with vendors. Executives said the Seattle-based retailer is adopting approaches that are more “collaborative” and “share both in the opportunities and the risk.”

The prime example of this is with the Asos company, which operates on online website platform for over 850 brands and has a portfolio of in-house brands, including Asos, that sell on the website. Last July Nordstrom bought a minority stake in Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands owned by Asos, which acquired those brands from the former Arcadia Brands. Nordstrom does not have a stake in the Asos brand itself. The retailer began selling Topman and Topshop in 2012.

The collaboration with Nordstrom marks the first time Asos will be sold in a brick-and-mortar store environment.

At The Grove in Los Angeles, a two-story, 20,000-square-foot Asos/Nordstrom “immersive shopping experience” has opened designed specifically to engage twentysomething customers with Asos and other brands, including Levi’s, WAYF and Nike. “The shopping experience will serve as a young adult incubator for Nordstrom to test activation concepts that inspire twentysomething customers and bridge the gap between digital and physical retail, including flexible content creation spaces that will evolve over time, exclusive services offered by influencers and brands customers know and love, ear piercing, denim remake, sneaker cleaning and more,” Nordstrom said in a statement.

The sneaker cleaning is with Jason Markk, a brand rooted in sneaker culture. There’s also customization with Lot, Stock and Barrell, a company that creates collaborative design experiences between individuals and brands; a station for clothing donation, and Beautycycle for clothing repair and sneaker cleaning.

In New York City, the Asos presentation is on the “center stage” on the main floor of the 57th Street women’s flagship, and inside Nordstrom’s men’s store across the street.

“Asos is arguably one of the most relevant global retailers for twentysomethings,” said Shea Jensen, Nordstrom’s executive vice president, general merchandise manager, women’s and men’s apparel. “We are equally excited to reposition and reintroduce Topshop and Topman,” which Nordstrom started carrying in 2012. “We think of those brands as a collective offer for fashion-loving twentysomethings.”

Nordstrom began selling the Asos brand last November with a soft launch in two stores and has been selling it on nordstrom.com, to get an early read on consumer acceptance before broadening the distribution. Asos also did have a 240-square-foot “glass box” installation at The Grove for four weeks that was taken down in March.

Nordstrom has sometimes been associated with attracting a preponderance of more mature, traditional shoppers. Asked if it’s been a challenge to attract younger and hipper shoppers, Jensen replied, “I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge. We know that the Millennial population, the twentysomethings, are increasingly an importance audience for us. With Topshop, we partnered with some time ago, and collectively with Asos, Nordstrom has become a destination” for them. We are always mindful of the opportunities to reach and serve new customers. We want to be a relevant and inspiring retailer to all customers.”

Asked if people in the U.S. are familiar with the Asos brand, Jensen said, “I think people are, and some people will discover the brand now. We are planning exciting events and activations, messaging across nordstrom.com, and social channels.”

For now at least, Nordstrom is not selling the Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands it has a minority stake in along with Topshop and Topman.

Compared to other brands targeting young consumers, at Asos, “The real focus is on that twentysomething customer and understanding their fashion needs,” said Vanessa Spence, commercial designer and visual director for Asos. “There is definitely a breadth and variety of products, from casual jerseys, right up to embellished sequin dresses,” said Spence, who oversees all aspects of design and visual identity across womenswear and menswear. In addition, Asos differentiates by being inclusive from a sizing point of view.

“Asos is fashion up to the moment, always based in quality,” Spence said. “We’re focused on getting the trends to the customer as quickly as possible, a selection that’s going to create excitement and desire. There are regular new drops every month,” Spence added, noting that there’s a particular emphasis on dresses, which are strong sellers, along with men’s tailored clothing.

The 22-year-old Asos brand was originally called “As Seen On Screen,” to convey that the brand was providing products inspired by fashions seen on movie and television screens. Eventually, the name was shortened to Asos.

Topshop and Topman are also focused on twentysomethings, though Spence said there is a different design aesthetic between the labels. “Topshop is really known for jeans and denim, and having slightly higher prices, and Asos is more focused on dresses,” Spence said.

“Vanessa and her team have done a really great job with the brands across a spectrum of aesthetics and different occasion wear,” Jensen said. “Each brand has a niche that it serves. They are very much not one note.”