At a glance

Nordstrom is an American luxury department store chain headquartered in Seattle, Washington, founded in 1901. Beginning as a shoe store, it has become one of the world’s leading fashion retailers offering compelling clothing, shoes, and accessories for men, women, and kids. It began operating online before 2009 and acquired competitor HauteLook in 2011. Nordstrom recently upgraded to’s enterprise plan from a self-service subscription.

"Removing backgrounds at a lower cost and including the time savings of eliminating added QA was a win."

Wes Paz

Wes Paz

Creative Production Manager

Getting its in-stock inventory online as soon as possible is a matter of the utmost importance for Nordstrom. Every hour the product is not online and available to customers, costs Nordstrom sales. has cut the two days Nordstrom had allocated to sending images offshore for background removal down to two minutes, securing a better profit margin on up to 60,000 items a year and cutting cost-per-image by 60%.

The challenge

Nordstrom’s online product offerings are brought to life by posting between roughly 3 million images a year, about five per item.

If the retailer decides images will take more than a few minutes to process, those images are sent offshore to have a clipping path put on them and the backgrounds removed. This takes a minimum of two hours, with images returning for an in-house QA process.

For the retailer, two hours is a long time when it comes to posting in-stock items, and the QA process has additional labor cost. It is imperative to get these images online as quickly as possible since it allows the company to move products to market ASAP, beating competitors selling the same product. Nordstrom can also get ahead of its automated mark-down cycle.

“Speed is definitely an important factor for us,” says Wes Paz, Creative Production Manager. “It’s like an ice cube headed towards the sun once the markdown cycle begins!”

This cycle can make a difference to the company’s profit margin; items that sell for multiple hundreds of dollars can end up going for far less as the cycle progresses with items moving to Nordstrom Rack and eventually deeper clearance options.

“If an item doesn't sell within a few weeks, something happens. If it doesn't sell within another few weeks, something else happens. If it doesn't sell within a couple more weeks, something else happens. And all these “somethings” result in diminishing margins. So, at some point, that item is practically given away. Anything that we could bring back in-house and turn around very quickly provides a tangible advantage.”

The aim, then, is to clear the production queue for in-stock items on the same day.

Not all images need to have their backgrounds removed. The chief target is photos of products from external manufacturers.

“They’ve got a variety of backgrounds and details that we would not have on our website,” says Paz. “The customer can’t be visually bombarded with everybody's unique idea of what's beautiful. Nordstrom has an intimate relationship with its customers and a sense of what their aesthetic preferences are, that understanding guides the visual continuity we strive for on our websites.”

External images represent about 30% of Nordstrom’s total, with 10% of those previously being sent offshore for the two-hour processing. The company publishes approximately three million photos a year to its product pages.

The work

With, Nordstrom was able to bring some of the items back in-house to have their backgrounds taken out.

Removing backgrounds at a lower cost and including the time savings of eliminating added QA steps was, says Paz, a “win.”

“Our production editors can go through this simple process, saving us all the time of sending and receiving batches of images and all the administrative tasks that are associated with that process— all of that was cut out!”

Paz inherited through a merger and company Nordstrom Rack (previously HauteLook ) had been making use of the service. However, he says he has been looking around and can’t find any better solution.

“I’ve been impressed enough not to make any changes. What you are doing is a difficult thing!”

Indeed, Nordstrom recently upgraded to’s enterprise plan for companies that process more than 100,000 images a year. It allows them to save up to 70% in costs, gives them a dedicated customer success manager, and allows them access to’s quality improvement and loyalty plans.

The result

The time savings were hugely significant. Even including the QA process, two hours were reduced to two minutes per image. Costs per image fell 60% for this process.

Even though removing backgrounds is a small part of the image-editing process Nordstrom has in place, the company is keen to be as lean as possible.

“We’ve been at this for a while, and we're pretty good at it,” Paz says. “We are continuously asking, ‘What is that next-level thing that we can do to shave off a little bit more time and effort to make tangible gains?’”

Nordstrom has been so impressed with how helps get manufacturer’s in-stock items to the market, that they are exploring other ways the service might help them save time elsewhere in the company.

“At the end of the day, getting an item to market faster vastly outstrips the cost savings in terms of profitability,” Paz says.

Paz has found customer service excellent, and he particularly values the way the software provider suggested Nordstrom would benefit from the enterprise program.

“Nordstrom knows something about great customer service. I was impressed that your team went out of their way to present fresh ideas. That's the best part of customer service; when it's consultative, not just me sitting around trying to think of how I can get something more from your product. They’re actually there proactively thinking about how they can benefit me, and that's great.”

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