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Nordstrom’s continued effort to compete in an evolving retail world increasingly dominated by at least one giant tech company has prompted the 117-year-old retailer to acquire two small Seattle startups.

Nordstrom announced Thursday that it has closed on deals to acquire the retail technology companies BevyUp — makers of a digital selling tool — and MessageYes — a platform for e-commerce through mobile messaging.

Brian Gill, technology senior vice president at Nordstrom, told GeekWire that the move will equip Nordstrom with tools and functionality that are complimentary to what the retailer is already doing. The addition brings with it 30 “talented and passionate people” from the two startups, he said.

“We’re about 100 years deep on priding ourselves on a high degree of personal service, being a brand that really creates a relationship with the customer” Gill said. “In both cases with these acquisitions what we’re looking at is companies that are really going to help us do that in a way that enhances and amplifies what we’ve done historically. But it really helps us do it in a way that reaches customers more where they are in the modern day — meaning, more through digital channels.”

Nordstrom tech
Nordstrom’s Style Boards feature launched in 2017 and provides a digital tool for salespeople to create boards filled with personalized style recommendations which customers can view on their phone and purchase from (Nordstrom Images)

Like many other traditional retailers, Nordstrom has struggled in recent years to keep pace with Amazon and the rising tide of customers who have turned to online shopping. Historically, the customer connections and conversations about style decisions that Nordstrom prides itself on have happened in brick-and-mortar stores.

“The expectation nowadays is that you can have that conversation anytime, anywhere, anyplace,” Gill said.

And while Nordstrom’s technology team touts advances it’s made in solving leading computer science and machine learning problems in its quest to better serve customers, the tool sets, data science and engineering capabilities that BevyUp and MessageYes bring will further enhance those efforts.

BevyUp’s digital selling platform gives Nordstrom sales reps another tool to extend outreach to customers, around such things as Style Boards. It will be incorporated into a new, integrated mobile Nordstrom employee app that will be rolled out in the coming year, the company said.

MessageYes, a spinout of Madrona Venture Labs previously known as ReplyYes, is focused on personalization and isolates what a shoppers interests are, and will provide enhanced algorithmic functions behind the scenes.

“Personalized shopping has long been our focus, and it’s something that’s been core to Nordstrom since they were founded back in 1901,” said Dave Cotter, founder and CEO of MessageYes. “Nordstrom has succeeded in building emotional relationships with their customers — creating connections that go well beyond a transaction. When we started MessageYes, that’s exactly what we wanted to do. Joining Nordstrom enables us to take a lot of our concepts and integrate them across all of the channels Nordstrom uses to serve customers.”

Two years after deep cuts to its tech department and a shifting strategy in how best to compete with the likes of Amazon, Gill was confident about the ongoing approach toward innovation — and how attractive Nordstrom looks to job seekers.

“We recruit in a major tech market like everybody else, so I’m not going to tell you it’s a cakewalk,” Gill said. “We’re definitely playing a David vs. Goliath game, but, you know, who wants to be Goliath? I’d much rather be David. Nobody tells the great, mythical stories at the end of the day about being Goliath. It’s always the underdog that gets the headline.”

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