We compared the shopping experience at Nordstrom’s and Bloomingdale’s discount stores and while both were messy, the former was much more impressive

We went on a treasure hunt at Nordstrom Rack.

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We went on a treasure hunt at Nordstrom Rack.
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Bethany Biron/Business Insider
  • Traditional retailers like Macy’s and Nordstrom are increasingly turning to their off-price counterparts to help keep business afloat.
  • Global retail analytics firm NPD Group found that two-thirds of consumers regularly purchase apparel from off-price brands.
  • We recently shopped at Nordstrom Rack and Bloomingdale’s The Outlet stores in New York City to see how the shopping experiences compared. Ultimately, Nordstrom Rack won us over with its organized layout and sleek displays, despite having fewer luxury products than Bloomingdale’s.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

While department stores struggle to stay open, off-price and discount retailers are thriving in a golden age of their own.

According to global retail analytics firm NPD Group, two-thirds of consumers regularly purchase apparel from off-price brands like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Consumer demand for off-price goods has increased so much over the past several decades that the discount market is expected to reach up to $19 billion in incremental sales by 2021, according to JPMorgan analysts cited by Retail Dive.

For traditional department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom, discount models have become vital revenue streams. While Macy’s plans to expand its Backstage locations as part of an upcoming turnaround plan, its Bloomingdale’s The Outlet stores continue to perform well. Meanwhile, Nordstrom Rack has consistently reported positive quarterly sales gains during an uncertain retail landscape in which its full-price locations have stumbled.

We recently visited Nordstrom Rack and Bloomingdale’s The Outlet stores in New York City to see how the two shopping experiences compared. While both featured an impressive assortment of designer goods at bargain prices- not to mention the occasional messy display – Nordstrom Rack ultimately won us over with its sleek layout and better-organized store.

Here was our experience:


First, we visited Nordstrom Rack in Downtown Brooklyn, situated above an H&M and within the same building as competitor TJ Maxx.

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Today, Nordstrom Rack has a total of 243 locations. It started as a discount basement store in 1973.

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As we entered the store, we saw promotional signs to join The Nordy Club, Nordstrom’s popular rewards program.

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Once inside, we noticed the store was extremely spacious and well-lit.

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We spotted a surprising amount of bargain hunters scouring the racks for a weekday afternoon.

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Each section was clearly labeled and well-organized, like this robust area of outerwear for basically any weather condition.

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The store had a small but impressive “Designer Row” section, featuring brands like Michael Kors and Rag & Bone.

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Nordstrom Rack also had a wide variety of brands at lower price points, like Levi’s …

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… and mall brand favorites like Madewell.

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We were impressed to see that Nordstrom Rack had a plus-size section, which we didn’t see at Bloomingdale’s The Outlet later.

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Then we got lost for awhile in the expansive shoe department.

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The handbag section boasted several big-name designers, like Kate Spade.

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However, some areas of the store were a bit of a mess, like this jewelry rack …

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… and the home goods section …

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… and this clearance rack in the men’s department.

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Still, other areas like luggage and travel were pristine.

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The same went for hair and beauty products.

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Ultimately, Nordstrom Rack is the self-proclaimed “ultimate treasure hunt destination” for a reason. It knows it requires a bit of digging to score a deal.

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For us, the digging was worth it. Despite the occasional messy display, Nordstrom Rack thoroughly impressed us with its enjoyable shopping experience.

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Next, we visited Bloomingdale’s The Outlet on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

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The store is one of two locations in New York — the other is in Staten Island. Bloomingdale’s The Outlet has 19 stores across 10 states in total.

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Compared to Nordstrom Rack, Bloomingdale’s The Outlet had a wider array of high-end designer brands.

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It featured a handful of labels we didn’t see at Nordstrom Rack, including Burberry …

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… and Karl Lagerfeld.

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However, the store was very messy, which we found distracting.

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Across its three stories, we found a vast majority of the store was disorganized and difficult to navigate.

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There were also some major eyesores in the store, like this area we found by the restroom.

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There were some bright spots, though, like the impressive assortment of designer sunglasses.

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The store also had a pretty solid handbag and accessories department.

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Bloomingdale’s The Outlet also had a decent assortment of formalwear.

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Sadly, a main draw of Bloomingdale’s The Outlet — its Forty Carrots ice cream bar — had recently closed when we visited.

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Despite the deals, ultimately the store was just a bit too messy for us to feel inspired to score a bargain compared to the relative ease of Nordstrom Rack.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider