Economic times are getting better, or so they say. If that's the case, then what's going on at Ross (NASDAQ:ROST)? The retailer, which provides name-brand merchandise at cut-rate prices, disclosed a disappointing outlook, giving investors reason to bid the stock down today.

Ross's February -- despite the three-day Valentine's Day and Presidents Day weekend, which worked out well for most retailers -- looked pretty dismal, with flat same-store sales as opposed to the 4% or 5% increase expected. Ross blamed the disappointing month on lower-than-expected inventories and a temporary closure of a distribution center during the period.

Now, Ross says first-quarter earnings will be $0.29 to $0.30 per share, as compared to the $0.37 per share originally forecast. The full year expectation is for earnings of $1.57 to $1.63 per share, as opposed to $1.68 per share.

When looking at the situation, one might argue that recent trends towards tastes for the high life and improving economics could drive shoppers to upscale department stores like Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) or Saks (NYSE:SKS). However, Bill Mann pointed out when he examined the outlet for TJX (NYSE:TJX), the name behind T.J. Maxx and Marshall's, that because stores like these offer name-brand merchandise, they often attract affluent but price-conscious shoppers.

This also protects off-price name-brand retailers from the bargain basement apparel approach of Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT). It's a clever niche indeed.

Snafus like this one during a big holiday weekend -- read, big shopping weekend -- do not bode well for a retailer. The lack of compelling merchandise might have given a message to shoppers that they'd best check out the wares at TJX or smaller rival Syms (NYSE:SYM). After all, earlier today, TJX reported a 10% increase in February's same-store sales.

Ross shares were recently down nearly 6%, showing investors felt ripped off by the news.

Do you like off-price, name-brand retailers like Ross and TJX? Or do you prefer the glitzier surroundings of a store like Nordstrom? Sound off with other Fools on the Retail discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.