Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab, created to serve as a fast-moving tech startup inside the Seattle-based retailer, is getting shaken up after four years.
Responding to an inquiry from GeekWire, Nordstrom confirmed that employees in the Innovation Lab have mostly shifted into other roles at the company, in areas including its Customer Experience Center (CEC), founded in 2013. A remaining core group in the Innovation Lab will continue to work on specific projects, the company says.
GeekWire received a tip about possible layoffs related to the move, but a Nordstrom spokesman didn’t directly address our questions about job cuts.
“To utilize the CEC to its full potential and widen the impact of innovation, we are moving parts of the original Innovation Lab into tech/biz teams while continuing to run a core Innovation Lab focused of solving specific customer opportunities, in addition to continuing to foster the innovation practice where needed,” the spokesman said.
He added, “Rather than just a team focused on innovation, it’s now everyone’s job.”
Visitors to the Innovation Lab’s website will see the message: “We’re currently pivoting. We are currently working on a new website that reflects our recent changes in our process and purpose.”
That website message was noticed as far back as Jan. 9 by someone on Twitter, so the pivot has been in the works for at least a month. Some employees have also updated their profiles recently, noting that they are no longer working for the Innovation Lab, but are still working at Nordstrom.
Over the years, Nordstrom has received considerable attention for having the foresight to create the lab, which was often cited as an example of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer being able to keep up with the changes in technology.
Over the past year, Nordstrom has continued a steady rollout of technology investments and experiments. In July, the retailer bought Trunk Club, a Chicago-based online clothing service. The following month, it created a way to let its followers on Instagram make purchases. And, in time for the holidays, it partnered with eBay to pilot new fitting room technology that includes touchscreen mirror that tracked items brought into the room.
From the outside, at least, the Innovation Lab’s mission has always been somewhat vague.
A cached version of the Lab’s website portrays a human focus: “We leave no stone unturned in our search for customer truth and empathy.” Its goals were both educational and inspirational: “Sometimes we bring in ‘extreme users’ or create outlandish scenarios to find that inspiration.”
In an example of the type of work they conducted, the team posted a video on YouTube demonstrating a “flash build,” which is a flash mob-style event where an engineering team picks a surprise location to build a new feature. In this case, a team of Lab employees descended on to Nordstrom’s flagship store in downtown Seattle to build an iPad app to help customers buy sunglasses.
The team gave itself a week to construct the idea, build the feature, and launch it. The outcome was an iPad app that allowed customers to view side-by-side pictures of themselves wearing different pairs of glasses.