We went shopping at TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack to see which was a better discount store, and the winner was clear

Business Insider/Mary HanburyWe found an extensive selection of designer handbags at Nordstrom Rack.
  • Nordstrom is increasingly leaning on its off-price concept, Nordstrom Rack, for growth.
  • These discount stores now outnumber its full-price locations. Nordstrom operates 239 Rack stores and 122 full-line stores in the US and Canada.
  • TJ Maxx, meanwhile, has reported strong same-store sales numbers for several years using a similar discount model.
  • We compared the shopping experience at a Nordstrom Rack and a TJ Maxx to find out which off-price store is better.

Off-price shopping is on-trend.

TJ Maxx is a shining example of what is working in today’s brick-and-mortar shopping environment. The US’s largest off-price chain has reported strong same-store sales numbers for several years while department stores look on enviously, reporting weaker sales and being forced to close locations.

Rather than lose out to the off-price channel, some department stores are working on creating their own versions – for example,Macy’s is doubling down on its Backstage concept.

But Nordstrom’s off-price offshoot, Nordstrom Rack, predates TJ Maxx by three years. It was launched in 1973 in the basement of one of its full-price stores in Seattle, selling its clearance clothing. In recent years, Rack has become one of the biggest areas of growth for the company, and these stores now outnumber Nordstrom’s full-price locations.

After putting Macy’s off-price concept to the test in June, we decided to see how Nordstrom Rack fared in comparison to TJ Maxx. Here’s what we found:


We headed to a Nordstrom Rack in Manhattan’s Union Square on a sunny afternoon in July.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Much like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack sells designer brands at a 30-70% discount.


The layout of the store felt a lot like a TJ Maxx …

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

… as did the accessories section. Cheaper jewellery hung from racks, and more-expensive pieces were locked in a cabinet.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

All beauty products were self-service.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

But the brands were high-end.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

While its premise is the same as TJ Maxx’s, Nordstrom Rack felt like a more upscale version.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyThese Marc Jacobs handbags cost almost $US200.

These Tumi suitcases were nearly $US400.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The store was mostly divided by brand, which made it easier to shop and less of a bargain hunt.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

We spotted lots of exclusive labels — such as Rag & Bone, Theory, and 7 For All Mankind — that seem less likely to be found in a TJ Maxx store.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

However, there was definitely some crossover of brands stocked in both stores.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyCalvin Klein is also prevalent in TJ Maxx.

In the clearance section, different labels were jumbled together.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

About 20% of what is sold in these discount stores is clearance inventory from the company’s main stores and website, while most items are bought specifically for Nordstrom Rack.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Source: Racked


Taking that into consideration, you might not be getting as good a deal as you think.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The layout of Nordstrom Rack’s shoe section was very similar to that of TJ Maxx, but it did feel more organised.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

There were multiple sizes for some styles …

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

… and for well-known brands.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

These stores have become a key area of growth for Nordstrom. Same-store sales for Nordstrom Rack have outpaced its full-line stores for the past three years, especially online.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

For this reason, the company has been increasing the number of Rack locations — Nordstrom now operates 239 off-price stores and 122 full-line stores in the US and Canada.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Source: Nordstrom


Nordstrom said it would open 12 Rack stores in 2018 and only one new Nordstrom.

Business Insider/Mary HanburyThe no-frills checkout area was just like at TJ Maxx.

Next, we headed to a TJ Maxx in downtown Manhattan. Menswear and luggage were at the entrance to the store. We instantly spotted some recognisable brands such as Samsonite and Nautica.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Seasonal clothing was front and center.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

We spotted dozens of well-known brands.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

In some areas of the store, brands were clustered together, making it easy to shop …

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

… and in some cases, there were multiple sizes for one style.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

But on the whole, it was pretty chaotic and lived up to the bargain-hunt promise.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

The clearance section was sprawling, and the clothing felt a lot less fashionable than at Nordstrom Rack.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Both men’s and women’s wear included a part devoted to “premium designers,” where trendy brands such as Theory and Vince had their own mini-sections.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

More-expensive items were boxed in plastic to prevent shoplifting.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

This location was considerably larger than the Nordstrom Rack we visited, meaning there was room for homewares and furniture.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

We found more popular brands here.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Overall, the products felt much less exclusive than what we found at Nordstrom Rack.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

TJ Maxx is all about the bargain hunt.

Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

Overall: On paper, these stores appear identical, offering big discounts on designer labels. While a no-frills store layout is a factor in both, there is a big difference between the quality of the brands and, therefore, the prices.

At Nordstrom Rack, the focus is on more-exclusive designer labels, meaning it’s generally more expensive. At TJ Maxx, there is a wide mix of lesser-known labels, more-affordable designer brands such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, and a few “premium” brands scattered throughout.

Overall, Nordstrom Rack was the winner. While it is more expensive, you do feel that you are shopping for better-quality products.

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.