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Can Nordstrom Stay Atop the Favorite Fashion Chain List?

December 11, 2013

Nordstrom is North America's favorite fashion retailer overall for the second year running, according to a new study of more than 6,800 consumers by Market Force Information.

As to why Nordstrom ranked first among a wide range of peers, the chain got top marks in five of nine categories: atmosphere, friendly associates, helpful associates, knowledgeable associates and return policy. It was also ranked in the top five for its loyalty program and merchandise selection. It did not break into the upper ranks for great value (Burlington Coat was number one) or low prices (Ross).

"While we often see retailers get caught up in price wars, believing the best deals will win consumers' hearts and minds, our research shows us this isn't necessarily the case," said Janet Eden-Harris, chief marketing officer for Market Force. "In fact, as we see with strong performers like Nordstrom and Kohl's, it's service-oriented factors like generous return policies and friendly associates that breed customer satisfaction and loyalty."

Last month, Nordstrom reported that same-store sales year-to-date were up 2.5 percent. The company projected it would achieve an overall sales increase of 3.5 percent for its fiscal year.

Interestingly, Nordstrom did not show up among the top chains when consumers were asked to named retailers they had visited in the past 90 days to buy casual clothing or business wear. Kohl's and Macy's were ranked first and second on both the lists published by Market Force.

The top 10 overall favorite fashion chains on Market Force's list were:
1. Nordstrom
2. Kohl's
3. Macy's
4. J.C. Penney
5. T.J. Maxx
6. Old Navy
7. Marshalls
8. Walmart
9. Ross Dress for Less
10. Target


Discussion Questions:

What is your analysis of Market Force's list of favorite fashion retailers? Is service or price a greater sustainable advantage in fashion retailing today?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of the top 10 fashion chains on Market Force's list gets your vote for best all around operator?


Most anyone can play the price game (so long as you have really deep pockets). That's a crowded playing field that produces very little customer loyalty. As soon as someone else beats your price, they steal your customer.

True service, the type Nordstrom's delivers, is a significant differentiator, and one that fosters consumer loyalty. It's a challenge to deliver service consistently, but that's why it is such a sustainable advantage for those that excel at it.

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Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

I'm not sure how to interpret a "top ten" list that includes everyone from Nordstrom to Walmart among favorite fashion chains. The common denominator among the stores is that each retailer has a distinct set of competitive advantages that is part of its brand position.

Clearly Nordstrom is focused on customer service and "better" product development. Meanwhile, Kohl's pays attention to value and convenience, TJX is all about "the deal" and variety, and so forth. The key lesson is that stores who want to be "favorites" in their segment need to execute their core strengths at a high level.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

To be clear upfront, I'm NOT a "clothes horse" or someone known for wearing fashion apparel.

But having three daughters raised by a fashion conscious mom, I do know that there is a huge difference in where women shop for "hoodies and sweats" vs. fashion they choose to wear to events. If they want to look "good," 60% of the Market Force list would not make their list.

Frankly, I was shocked to see some retailer names on Market Force's top ten list. None of the women I know would consider Walmart as a "favorite FASHION chain."

At the end of the day, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. And the only eyes that count are the eyes of the consumer paying at checkout. For those consumers valuing quality and impeccable service, both at and after the sale, Nordstrom will continue to reign at the top of the list.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

Here's a theory. Nordstrom is viewed as a go-to store for some fashion some of the time, but not all of fashion all of the time. That can explain why it did not show up among top chains for visited in the past 90 days.

Think about it this way. For most meal occasions with cranberry sauce on the menu private label will do just fine. When company is coming, Ocean Spray is the answer. So it might be with fashion and Nordstrom.

For special occasions or when top tier (or close to it) is desired, it's off to Nordstrom's. But most of the time, the majority of shoppers will make their way to what they consider the best value for the need and Nordstrom is evidently not on that list.

This may explain the reported findings. What we don't see is how much is spent for how many different fashion items. This information could enhance the insights and what we take away from the report.

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Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group LLC

The phrase "favorite fashion retailer" creates a certain set of expectations in the consumer's mind, and you would naturally expect to see Nordstrom and Macy's among the list of contenders. Many of the brands on this list, though they sell apparel, are not necessarily fashion retailers.

Nordstrom topping the list makes sense, as they are superb at carefully curating and offering a highly desirable selection of brands within a more refined retail environment that excels around the customer experience.

Fashion retail shoppers tend to place more importance on merchandise quality, selection and the entire service experience (retail environment, knowledge and helpfulness of sales associates, etc.) over price.

In this context, Nordstrom holds a solid advantage over the alternatives.

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Jeff Hall, President, Second To None

It's a useful measure of which retailers are adapting with the times. Nordstrom is widely recognized as one of the top omni-channel retailers and this focus on the consumer I am sure plays into why they were voted #1.

Price will become more critical given the transparency the Internet provides, but service will always be critical.

The company I am interested in keeping an eye on is T.J. Maxx, as 2 of their brands made this list, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, and they just restarted their eCommerce efforts a few months ago.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

I am wondering how many serious investors discuss their portfolios with any of these 6,800 people polled for an opinion. If you want to see which company is doing the best in the market simply look at their sales, profit & loss, and paid dividends columns. If you want a look at different demographics then visit the company site and see for yourself which markets they are working to capture. Then look at the three results previously listed and see for yourself. This works every time.


Other than JCP, all of these are achieving relative success in a very difficult marketplace due to their focus on specific strengths. Each (again other than JCP) is very focused in staying true to their niche and strengths within that niche and are likely to continue to invest heavily in talent and technology to ensure they continue to do so. I'd like to see JCP find its way as well, but I'm not optimistic....

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

In my limited experience, I would have to agree that when it comes to fashion, price plays a smaller role in decision making than in other categories (grocery, consumer packaged goods, consumer electronics etc.) and that service (and brand perception) can be a significant enough differentiator to justify higher price points.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

The list is a mess. A salad of retailers which ignores categories/retail type. The list is not surprising however. In some areas, Walmart is ALL there is if you do not want to drive a few hours, and so it also becomes a "fashion?" retailer.

Nordstrom is SO GOOD at being merchants and in service that we take it for granted that they are so good. It is hard work and they are STILL excellent despite becoming national! Their focus and zeal for their art places them head and shoulders above everyone else, but this article is specifically in terms of fashion. Nordstrom is by far the best of the list included for fashion also. The other listed competitors have good assortment but may not necessarily have the best fashion. Of course, this is somewhat personal and depending upon taste as well.

Judgement of other stores which may deserve a place on the list may be clouded, or affected by other factors of being a retailer, or may not be available widely enough to be included. Given all these variables, I believe that Nordstrom, as long as they can keep their focus, will REMAIN at the top for the foreseeable future, without challenge.

William Passodelis, associate, ML Co.

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