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So where is true luxury retailing today? The high end is on a steady course down market. Nordstrom, Neiman’s and Saks are slowly evolving into off-pricers, expanding their Rack, Last Call and Off Fifth concepts much faster than their full-line businesses. This is eroding their credibility as purveyors to the elite, since one of the strongest pillars of luxury is pricing integrity. But Wall Street can be pretty unforgiving. In order to satisfy investors, these businesses must grow. Opportunity for organic growth is limited, due to intensified competition and more demanding consumers.
Look at the auto market. Mercedes, BMW and Audi are all adding cheaper models to the low ends of their product lines. You can’t turn on the radio without hearing an ad for their affordable lease deals, wooing us to experience a taste of luxury at a discounted price.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that many luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermès, Burberry and Dolce and Gabbana are now bypassing their retail partners and going direct to consumers, launching their own e-commerce sites and brick-and-mortar stores. The fastest way the Nordstroms and Neiman-Marcuses of the world can grow sales and earnings is to trade down. But they can only do this for so long before becoming known primarily for their discounting, the kiss of death in luxury.
Then there are the outlet stores.
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