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Originally published May 11, 2011 at 3:31 PM | Page modified May 11, 2011 at 7:34 PM

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Tale of lost diamond adds glitter to Nordstrom's customer service

A main theme of the hourlong annual shareholders meeting was Nordstrom's efforts to cater to customers both in-store and online.

Seattle Times business reporter

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It's Nordstrom legend that when a customer in Fairbanks, Alaska, wanted to return two tires bought a while ago from another store on the same site, a sales clerk looked up their price and gave the man his money back.

True or not, it's considered an example of Nordstrom's no-questions-asked return policy and the lengths to which it will go to please customers.

A new customer-service story may take its place:

A woman in North Carolina recently lost the diamond from her wedding ring while trying on clothes at a Nordstrom store. A store security worker saw her crawling on the sales floor under the racks. He asked what was going on, then joined the search.

After they came up empty, the employee asked two building-services workers to join the search. They opened up the bags of the store's vacuum cleaners, where they found the shiny diamond.

Nordstrom showed a video clip featuring the shopper, identified as Mrs. Shaw, and the three workers at its annual shareholders meeting Wednesday in downtown Seattle.

A main theme of the hourlong meeting was Nordstrom's efforts to cater to customers both in-store and online.

"I've never been through a vacuum-cleaner bag. It's kind of disgusting," said President of Stores Erik Nordstrom, before introducing the three employees to shareholders. "This raises the bar."

Taking a cue from Apple, Nordstrom also announced plans to put about 5,000 mobile checkout devices into workers' hands at 116 full-line clothing stores by the start of its Anniversary Sale in July.

President Blake Nordstrom said salespeople will use the Internet-connected devices to hunt for out-of-stock merchandise or complete credit-card transactions without making customers wait in line for a cash register.

The company has been testing the devices at its downtown Seattle and Bellevue Square stores.

Separately, the company is stepping up its efforts to expand its footprint beyond the United States. Blake Nordstrom said it has been looking in Canada, including Toronto and Vancouver, for new store sites, but finding "the right locations is a challenge."

"There isn't the building or the space," he said. "Hopefully a year from now, we'll have something to announce."

Nordstrom has 211 stores in the U.S., including 92 off-price Rack locations. It dipped its toes overseas in 2009 when it began shipping Internet orders to 30 countries and enabled online customers to make purchases in foreign currencies.

Also in 2009, the company announced plans to open a store in San Juan, Puerto Rico, possibly in 2013 or 2014.

A few other tidbits from Wednesday:

• Nordstrom will call a new philanthropic-based concept store in New York's Soho district "Treasure & Bond."

The store, to open this fall, will donate its profits to charity. Although it will not carry the Nordstrom name, it lays the groundwork for a Manhattan flagship, analysts say. Nordstrom opened a Rack store in Lower Manhattan last year.

• Nordstrom is making new efforts to personalize customer service. It has 985 personal stylists in stores, up from 459 a year ago, and plans to have 18 in-store bridal boutiques by the end of the year.

• Nordstrom and Fossil Group together sold 702,000 watches last year. Texas-based Fossil, which makes watches under its own name as well as other labels, was picked by Nordstrom as one of two top vendors of 2010. Nordstrom's other top vendor was European menswear label Hugo Boss.

The company, which employs about 3,200 at its Seattle headquarters, last week posted a 6.5 percent increase in first-quarter same-store sales, a sign its affluent customer base is spending more freely again after a sharp pullback during the recession.

Sales at stores open more than a year, called same-store sales, are a key gauge of a retailer's performance because they exclude store openings and closures.

Blake Nordstrom also hinted that more changes are on the way for the fast-growing e-commerce business. He noted Nordstrom has more than $1 billion in cash and can invest in new technology.

"We're not trying to be Amazon, but I think there are learnings there," he said, referring to the Seattle Internet giant. He added he hopes to look back on 2011 as the year Nordstrom "got behind what it took to be best of class online."

Nordstrom will report its first-quarter earnings after the markets close Thursday. Its stock ended Wednesday up 44 cents, about 1 percent, at $48.70, near the top end of a 52-week trading range of between $28.44 and $49.43.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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