Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) said last week that same-store sales at its full-line stores dropped 0.7 percent this summer. That's in line with what both Macy's (NYSE:M) and Walmart (NYSE:WMT) have seen: A less-than-1-percent slide at big-name retailers. But wait, wasn't high-end retail supposed to be the one place where shoppers actually have money and are spending it?
Apparently not. Along with Nordstrom, Coach (NYSE:COH) and Ralph Lauren have also reported that sales are hurting. In fact, the one bright spot for Nordstrom was its Rack stores, which sort of qualify as the low end of the high end. Rack saw same-store sales up 2.4 percent. But even that was mixed news: It's up, but last year it was up 7.7 percent.
So, to recap: Customers aren't spending more at high-end Nordstrom, department store Macy's or discounter Walmart. That means shoppers aren't simply dropping down to the next level. Where are the retail sales that economists say are rising?
One possibility is online, which is harder to track than just looking at a few big bellwether chains. But online retail is just as hard for those optimistic economists to track. In addition, historically the only big growth story in e-commerce is Amazon, which can't account for anything near the growth that economists are seeing.
But a more likely suspect is the category that Nordstrom Rack and Sam's Club fall into. While their flagship counterparts watch sales shrinking slightly, both the off-price Rack and the club-discount Sam's Club are seeing same-store sales grow at around 2 percent since last year.
Is that really where the customers have gone—away from the big retail names and to whatever happens to the the slightly-less-expensive niche that's between big tiers of retailers? It could be. Or it could be that those economists really are a tad too optimistic after all.
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