Nordstrom HAZMAT

While working as a logistics processor for Nordstrom during the 2020 holiday season I found ran into an incredibly time-consuming and overlooked pain point for Nordstrom. The bulk of shipping includes items such as shoes and clothing, 10% of the shipping orders are cosmetics and or electronics. Unlike the bulk of the shipping items, these cosmetics and electronic items have to be prepared in a certain way by logistic processors who have been taught what to look for. Because of this all of these items are set aside and can take days to process because only a few people are qualified(honestly it’s just willing employees) to know what to look for.

Why is there a setback?

To process HAZMAT individuals have to be trained to look for specific items and ingredients in those items. But this is literal science lingo that we have to train our employees to look for. For instance, anything with the ingredient “alcohol” is a HAZMAT item and must be processed as such, but “alcohol Denat” is not a HAZMAT ingredient. This is so troubling for some that the fulfillment team automatically sets any cosmetic items in the HAZMAT area without thinking.

Why? Because it is easier to let someone else take responsibility for it.
Simply put, dealing with items that are Hazmat is scary. And the imagery of an actual incident occurring is enough for Nordstrom employees to wait for someone else to do it.

Nordstrom Logo


Competitor Analysis
Diary Study

User Persona

Design needs
Proposed features


User Testing
Team Input
Stakeholder Feedback
Confirm Style Guide

Data Analysis
Document Findings
Further research
Apply changes

The Problems
Shipping orders are difficult enough during normal times with full-time employees, but during the holiday season, these are magnified by seasonal part-time employees that are fearful of making a mistake that could potentially cause bodily harm to someone.
Design Question
How can we make a tedious process of reading through ingredient labels easier and with less conflict of what is HAZMAT and what is not?


Working as a logistics processor during the holiday season I had a first-hand look at the issue of HAZMAT items and the backlog it creates for shipping. Immediately I saw how stressful it was for new hires to be thrown into this area and I could see how quickly gravitated to orders of clothing and shoes.


Of the 20 person logistics processing team there were only 3 full-time employees and the rest were new hires with no Nordstrom Experience. There were 5 new hires trained for HAZMAT processing and yet the HAZMAT area always seemed to be growing. After a while, I saw that all the newly trained hires were avoiding the HAZMAT area and focusing on other areas creating a backlog.


Approaching as another logistics processor and not a manager I asked a few questions to find out why there was such a backlog of HAZMAT orders. Over the course of 2 months, I found a common theme that people would toss any item they assumed was a HAZMAT item. When I would ask “Is this a HAZMAT item?” the response was always “Just put it in the HAZMAT area.” Basically, no one was sure even those who were trained and it would eventually end up being the manager’s responsibility to process the orders.


10% of the online orders are cosmetics, which are the items that are thrown into the HAZMAT Area without.

Of the 10% cosmetics orders an overwhelming amount is not considered HAZMAT and can be shipped normally.

If an order has  10 clothing items and 1 cosmetic item that whole order will be delayed until that 1 cosmetic item is processed.

The instructions for HAZMAT are confusing and excessive even for seasoned full-time employees.

Part of the instructions for HAZMAT

Hazmat after 2 days

Multiday Backup


PhotoShop Adobe XD


When creating user personas I took directly from observation from my coworkers and managers. Taking into account their needs and wants I took goals and frustrations from real-life subjects when drawing up fictional personas.


Jessica Persona ManagerJennifer Persona Seasonal Ben Persona Seasonal

Simplify it

So how can we create a solution for such a pain-staking process? By making it as easy as scanning a barcode.

By creating a simple database with read, write privileges for Logistic Managers, to approve or reject items based on the ingredients, while allowing any of our Nordstrom employees access to the information. We can streamline this process while delivering quick shipments to the delight of our customers.



See it Work


Over 10% of shipping orders have some sort of cosmetic or electronic that would automatically place it in a HAZMAT area. Only a small percentage of that actually needs special care. But at it that 10% causes a delay for all the orders and affects the performance metrics of all Nordstrom stores.

Nordstrom customer service is legendary, and for a Nordstrom customer who pays extra for expedited shipping, there is a huge disappointment for a gift to arrive late, regardless of it being a HAZMAT item or during peak holiday times.

The Nordstrom HAZMAT App simply makes things easier and faster. It takes the confusion away from new employees that make it easier to train and retain while streamlining the shipping process and delivering items quickly to the delight the customer