Nordstrom Inc. is seeking to blur the line between retail sales and financial services.
The upscale department store chain hopes to supplement the credit cards it issues with a suite of financial products, including debit cards and perhaps even home equity loans and money market accounts.
To start the process, the Seattle company has applied to the Office of Thrift Supervision for a charter.
Most big department stores offer private-label cards that are good for in-store purchases, and some offer Co.-branded credit cards.
But Nordstrom may become the first U.S. store chain to branch into financial services unrelated to retail sales.
Nordstrom says its goal is to meet more of its customers' shopping and financial needs.
The retailer currently issues a private-label credit card and a co- branded Visa card through Nordstrom National Credit Bank in Englewood, Colo.
"A thrift charter allows us to offer products and services that, until now, no other retailer has offered customers," said Kevin Knight, president of Nordstrom National Credit Bank. "This move strengthens our competitive position within financial services while expanding the products we can offer our customers."
Owning a thrift would let the company expand its portfolio into commercial and debit cards. Nordstrom's current charter does not allow it to issue business or debit cards.
Mr. Knight said a thrift charter also would give the company leeway to introduce products such as home equity loans and money market accounts that could have debit cards tied to them.
Some analysts said Nordstrom's move might hint of a future in which less traditional financial institutions gain market presence.
"Nordstrom is positioning themselves to take advantage of what's coming down the road," said Stanley Anderson, president of Anderson and Associates in Arvada, Colo. "They have a very large data base of customers," he said, and by offering more financial products, "they're looking to exploit that."
Nordstrom officials said they are trying to accommodate customers who prefer to pay with debit cards and business customers who shop at Nordstrom for employee gifts.
"We want to be able to offer new products to our customers and be able to facilitate Nordstrom purchases in as many ways as possible," Mr. Knight said.
The new cards would offer an additional platform for Nordstrom's marketing. Nordstrom's co-branded Visa card users earn points toward gift certificates with their purchases.