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Originally published Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 8:07 PM

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Nordstrom, Blue Nile say ‘I do’ in bridal experiment

Seattle Internet jeweler Blue Nile has joined with Nordstrom to showcase some ritzy rings in stores while sticking to its long-held e-commerce strategy.


By Seattle Times business staff

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At a jewelry display case on the second floor of Nordstrom’s downtown Seattle flagship, you can now try on diamond rings worth up to $20,000.

But to make an actual purchase, you must go online to Blue Nile’s website.

In a new twist on an old idea, Seattle Internet jeweler Blue Nile has joined with Nordstrom to showcase products in stores while sticking to its long-held e-commerce strategy.

Shoppers at the Nordstrom downtown store can check out Blue Nile’s sampling of 75 engagement rings and 40 wedding bands, talk in person with a jewelry “consultant,” and then go online to complete an order or continue shopping.

It’s the latest example of a “clicks-to-bricks” retailer trying to take advantage of face-to-face commerce without the expense of a large store presence.

The Blue Nile display, opened late last month in the store’s Wedding Suite, is a six-month experiment that could expand to the other 17 Wedding Suite salons at Nordstrom stores around the country.

The financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.

“We’re definitely looking at this well beyond the holiday period,” said Julie Yoakum, chief merchandising officer at Blue Nile. “The hope would be to expand to other Wedding Suites.”

As more shoppers get comfortable buying things online, traditional retailers are making a big push to reach them on their home computers and mobile devices. Meanwhile, online retailers are opening physical showrooms to build brand awareness.

Google has “Winter Wonderlabs” in six U.S. cities to display gadgets through the holidays. Seattle-based Amazon.com set up temporary stores in a handful of malls as part of a marketing campaign for its Kindle tablets and e-readers.

Yoakum said Blue Nile remains committed to its Internet-only sales roots, while also recognizing that some customers want to get up close and personal with jewelry before buying.

“This is about seeing it, trying it on and generating interest for future purchases,” she said.

Among traditional retailers, Nordstrom has been especially aggressive online. It bought the flash-sale website HauteLook in 2011 and struck a deal with men’s online clothier Bonobos in 2012. While Bonobos got a cash infusion and more than 100 stores to sell its clothes, Nordstrom gained new expertise in online marketing.

Shea Jensen, national weddings director at Nordstrom, suggested the deal with Blue Nile is similarly symbiotic.

“For us, the most exciting thing is the opportunity to meet new customers and introduce them to the Wedding Suite,” Jensen said.

Amy Martinez: amartinez@seattletimes.com

Costco stockholders get another shot at board-member vote

Costco’s board is inviting activist shareholders seeking to shake it up to bring on the pitchforks at the annual investors gathering in January.

The Issaquah-based retailer is offering shareholders an opportunity to change the way directors are chosen — from a staggered model in which they serve for three years and about a third are up for election at every shareholders’ meeting, to a system in which all seats are up for grabs annually.

The move, announced in a proxy filing this past week, comes in the midst of increasing shareholder restiveness across all industries. Investors seeking to improve corporate governance have managed to overhaul boards and dislodge CEOs at such companies as Chesapeake Energy and Hess Corp.

The so-called declassification of corporate boards — the elimination of the staggered board structure — is a popular cause among activists.

Supporters such as the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project say boards where all members are elected annually are more responsive to shareholder interests.

Opponents, such as the prominent corporate law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, say declassifying makes it harder to fend off unwelcome bids and harms “long-term value creation.”

A year ago investors controlling 61 percent of Costco shares voted in favor of a shareholder proposal to declassify the board. But for such a measure to pass, more than two thirds of shares must vote in favor.

This time Costco itself is bringing the issue to the table, albeit with apparent reluctance, so the shareholders’ meeting in Bellevue on Jan. 30 might be a cliffhanger.

The company, which opposed last year’s motion, is abstaining from any formal recommendation this time — but it makes clear that the board likes the status quo. Costco points to its strong growth and its moderate executive compensation as proof that its board is accountable to shareholders.

“The board believes that a significant benefit associated with a classified board structure is that it serves as a safeguard against short-term shareholders agitating for changes inconsistent with a long-term value,” Costco said in its proxy.

If the activists succeed, directors elected from 2015 and on would serve for a year; current directors and those standing up for a three-year term at the 2014 meeting, would continue to hold office for the duration of the term for which they were elected.

Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com



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