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Why Nordstrom Appears to Be Pivoting Away From Influencers

Influencers helped turn Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale into a major moment for the department store. This year, they say the retailer is leaning less on social media marketing, leading some creators to downplay the annual event.
Nordstrom's annual Anniversary Sale has been an influencer favourite for years, generating six or seven figures of income for top performers.
Nordstrom's annual Anniversary Sale has been an influencer favourite for years, generating six or seven figures of income for top performers. (Shutterstock)

Key insights

  • During the 2010s, Nordstrom's annual Anniversary Sale emerged as a major money-making event for influencers.
  • But this year, the retailer’s affiliate commission rate dropped to 3.5 percent on influencer monetisation platform LTK, slashed by half from last year’s 7 percent.
  • The move represents a shift in how Nordstrom markets the sale, but also a decline in its power as a revenue-generating tool for influencers.

In 2015, Anna Jane Wisniewski woke up at 4 a.m. one morning in July to comb through the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale so she could tell readers of her fashion blog, See Anna Jane, about the best discounts minutes after they went live.

This year, the sale preview has been up for weeks, but she hasn’t shared a thing about it on her blog, or to her 118,000 Instagram followers.

“It’s just not as exciting as it once was,” said Wisniewski. “There’s not a lot of newness.”

Fashion influencers like Wisniewski have less incentive to wake up early to post about Nordstrom’s annual mega sale and not just because of the product assortment. Nordstrom has slashed the cut influencers get when followers make a purchase off their recommendation to just 3.5 percent on LTK, a leading social media monetisation platform. That’s down from 7 percent last year, and as high as 20 percent for certain influencers in the past.

Influencers also have a narrower seven-day window on LTK for when a link generates a commission, from 30 days previously. On LTK, influencers also won’t get paid until 270 days after a successful Nordstrom transaction.

“At LTK, we are continuing to see an increase in investment from brands on influencer marketing,” LTK told BoF in a statement. “This year represents the largest investment for nearly all brands on LTK, including Nordstrom, with creator investment up meaningfully across all categories of spend.”

Still, the changes point to a major shift in how Nordstrom is marketing its biggest sale of the year. Influencers aren’t happy. For some, the Anniversary Sale was their top money maker, with a few generating six or even seven figures for the stretch of July and August where Nordstrom marks down new merchandise from popular brands such as Nike and Rag & Bone. Some felt a sense of ownership over the event, believing their collective annual flood of posts helped turn Nordstrom’s online sale into a phenomenon.

“Influencers built the online Anniversary Sale, they’re totally responsible,” said Wisniewski. “It’s disappointing … it felt like they pulled a fast one.”

The pullback from influencer marketing was years in the making. The Anniversary Sale is still important to Nordstrom’s top and bottom line — it’s one of the few such events to warrant regular mentions in the company’s quarterly earnings calls. But it has suffered from overexposure in recent years. Every July, consumers’ social media feeds are inundated with creators discussing discounts or sharing products and hauls. Some found the assortment repetitive from year to year, adding to the fatigue. And other retailers have followed Nordstrom’s lead with flashy sales holidays of their own.

Google searches for the sale peaked between 2017 and 2019, and have fallen by more than half since then.

In a sense, Nordstrom and its influencer network were a victim of their own success.

“After years of putting a ton of time and energy into promoting [the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale], I feel totally burnt out,” said Julia Dzaifc, an influencer who runs the blog Lemon Stripes. “Everything looks the same every year.”

The Rise and Fall of #NSale

Nordstrom embraced the power of influencers early on in the 2010s and was among the first retailers to stock product collaborations with influencers like Blair Eadie and Arielle Charnas. That show of faith, in turn, led creators to link more frequently to Nordstrom’s products.

“They put in long-term strategies around affiliate campaigns and making sure that creators understand what’s coming down the pike,” said Lindsay Jerutis, the general manager of ShopStyle Collective, an influencer monetisation platform. “That really helped cultivate an audience with the brand over a long period of time.”

Offering higher than usual commission during the Anniversary Sale — average commission for fashion brands hovers around 10 percent — made it a particularly lucrative time of year for an influencer to double down on Nordstrom.

“For a lot of influencers, the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale is a top, if not the best, month for generating revenue,” said influencer Merritt Beck, who runs the site The Style Scribe and has nearly 98,000 followers on Instagram. Last July, the month of the Anniversary Sale, she said, was her highest-earning month for affiliate income to date, more lucrative than the holiday shopping season.

In 2020, the sale was pushed a month due to the pandemic; when it eventually went live, it was on a smaller scale. Since then, it’s moved to early-and-mid July versus late July and early August. The adjusted timing has made it more difficult to sell the predominantly fall and winter merchandise that makes up the sale, said Wisniewski.

Influencers say the assortment includes more of Nordstrom’s own private labels and fewer items from brands their followers are interested in, like Vince or Veronica Beard. Certain items were marked down every year — a Diptyque candle set, Natori bras, Spanx faux leather leggings.

“It became a thing that you felt like you had to post about,” said Carly Hill, an influencer management consultant and an influencer. “I would feel like I’m almost not doing my job if I wasn’t posting about the Nordstrom sale.”

Diversified Income

Nordstrom didn’t comment directly on its decision to offer less favourable terms to influencers.

“Affiliate partners are some of our most valued collaborators, and we regularly evaluate our offerings to create partnership models that are mutually beneficial,” a Nordstrom spokesperson told BoF.

The company may have felt it didn’t need to rely on influencers to spread the word about the sale, now that it’s so well known to consumers. Cutting back on affiliate commissions will also help shore up margins as other costs rise, said Simeon Siegel, managing director at BMO Capital Markets.

Influencers are adjusting their coverage plans accordingly.

“I had already spent days on content … other than that, I don’t plan to dedicate more to it,” said Beck. “In years past most of the content on my site would be dedicated to the sale during the month it was happening, so that’s definitely changed.”

The sale’s declining importance mirrors other changes in how creators earn a living on social media, where building a niche following is increasingly seen as a better way to build a lasting business.

“Brands have diversified how they’re reaching consumers, and influencers are also adapting to the marketplace and changing how they reach their followers,” added Jamie Wachlarz, chief marketing officer at talent management agency Estate Five.

However, there are some major events that still prove worth the investment. As influencers share less about Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale, they’ve invested more time in posting about Amazon’s Prime Day, said Wisniewski, adding that Amazon offers more competitive affiliate commission rates and requires less of a time commitment from influencers.

“[Prime Day] is two days, you’re not churning out content constantly for a month,” she said. “It’s kind of the new Super Bowl.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 18 July 2022. A previous version misstated the length of the delay of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale in 2020.

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