The Softgoods segment of the Hot 100 is headed by Ascena Retail Group — not surprising, given that the former Dress Barn is the hottest retailer in the nation this year. What is more of a surprise is the presence of three department store operators — Nordstrom, Kohl’s and Macy’s — since that category has been written off as being on its way to extinction by more than a few analysts and industry watchers.
Nordstrom caters to affluent consumers, and the luxury sector of retailing has been on the upswing since the recession’s official end two years ago. In fact, upscale merchandise is expected to post an 8 percent increase this year, according to the influential Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study from Bain & Co.
Nordstrom, which is stepping up its online presence after acquiring “flash sale” website HauteLook for $270 million earlier this year, began 2011 like gangbusters, pushing profits up nearly 25 percent in the first three months of its fiscal year. Jewelry, designer items and men’s apparel were particularly strong performers, replacing last year’s sales drivers: dresses and shoes. Since then, however, the company has tempered its outlook and has grown more cautious about prospects for the holiday selling season.
Hedging its bets on the sustainability of the rebound in the luxury segment, Nordstrom continues to grow its Rack off-price clearance division. In fact, two-thirds of the new selling space the company is opening this year will be accounted for by Rack stores.