Gill Linton: Designer Discount, The Death Of Style?

Gill Linton: Designer Discount, The Death Of Style?

Is this designer discounting bandwagon that otherwise respectable retail brands are jumping on, in fact the end of fashion?

Gill Linton
  • 15 june 2010

I thought Nordstrom was a pretty decent brand as far as department stores go.  I know they’re not Barney’s, but I also know they’re not Filenes Basement.  So, why on earth would a fashion retailer with a brand image based on quality, make their debut in the most influential fashion city in the world, with a discount store?  Worse yet, a few stores down from Filenes and other quality fashion destinations like the Designer Shoe Warehouse, and Strawberry’s.

I went to their big opening day and was counted in by a welcome committee, which felt more like going through airport security.  I know why they do it, but being clicked into a store is never a good first impression.   I’ve also read the articles about their struggle to find the right real estate to open a regular Nordstrom, settling instead on a Nordstrom Rack to ease their way into the hearts of fashionable New Yorkers.

From a brand perspective, it just doesn’t make sense to me, and overall I think is damaging to their brand, particularly because as far as shopping experiences go, it was pretty desperate.

People’s values have changed.  There’s been tons written about how more people want lasting quality at reasonable prices – a reaction to the sheer fastness of fashion.  It’s what’s been driving the designer discount market at the expense of brand experience and it’s kind of ruining what makes fashion special.

Gilt Groupe got it right. They retained, if not improved, what makes fashion exciting and special and at the same time transformed the rote nature of shopping online for discounted clothes.  However, when the business of discounted fashion is brought to the masses on the high street, it turns into an overwhelming mess, where the clothes, when they’re not disrespectfully left on the floor, lose all sense of style.

Is this designer discounting bandwagon that otherwise respectable retail brands are jumping on, in fact the death of fashion?

Greg Costello is a creative consultant for retail brands on and offline, with years of experience shaping the brand and customer experience for stores like Bloomingdales.

I talked to Greg about why it’s so difficult for bricks and mortar brands to sell discounted designer clothes with the same degree of style as online discount brands like Gilt and Ideeli.  (I love the notion of retail as the showroom and transactions happen online.)

“The online sample sale is popular because they change daily, the opportunity for social networking, creating a community, the exclusive feeling of “members only” and like old fashioned Amway sales people, you can earn money when your friends sign up at your suggestion. Department stores have been slow to embrace the power of online for a variety of reasons…cost and content…but with the recent economic down turn, it has forced them all to take drastic steps to get into the game. We hear more and more that the traditional shopping experience has got to become more engaging and experiential – the brick and mortar as showroom and the online site will be where the actual transaction will take place. Maybe so, but most consumers are shopping price over loyalty to a particular store. The consumer rules and it is hard to take back something once you have people craving more.”

How about this for an idea: Set a fair price for the product and the experience, rather than the false over-inflated prices that get slashed to create the illusion of a bargain, when every other brand is a bargain too?  The discount market hit its stride when we stopped buying the good stuff and the leftovers built the Gilt/Ideeli empires.  However, now that things are improving, and hopefully brands have adjusted their output accordingly, are we heading back to the days when the stuff on sale was the less exciting stuff nobody wanted?  If what I experienced at Nordstrom Rack is anything to go by, that’s a big fat yes.

I asked Greg, if this discount bubble is going to burst?

“I think the bubble will get bigger before it bursts…or just leaks. The world of e-commerce is in it’s infancy…there are still many models and concepts to float out there- compare it to reality television…it’s much less expensive to open an online venture than a bricks and mortar. You have the flexibility to try new ideas with less risk. I think it will be interesting to watch as consolidation begins and to see who will become leaders in this. I think that the discount way of shopping will be stronger than ever and continue into the future. We have had our decade or more of “affordable luxury” and we see where that took us. The mere fact that luxury has been marketed like any other commodity is crazy and damaging to the meaning of luxury goods and services. Discount is not a dirty word…it is a part of the game. And people like to win.”

You can’t buy style and you can’t give it away for cheap.

Gil Linton- Designer Discount, The Death Of Style-2

The Shoe section of the Nordstrom Rack, Seattle.

Gill writes about the business of fashion for Mpdclick – a leading commercial online fashion trend forecasting service. Visit

Gill is a creative strategy consultant in New York. You can contact her at


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