Recent same-store sales trends at upscale department-store retailer Saks (NYSE:SKS) suggest that shoppers are filling their shopping bags as quickly as they can. Financial trends are a bit murkier, but that's only because Saks has fancy ambitions, though it's no snob yet.

Saks' first-quarter results, reported this morning, saw a nearly 16% total sales increase and impressive comps of 14.4%, following a 9.9% jump last quarter. Bottom-line earnings trends were more difficult to discern, since the company realized hefty gains in past quarters from the sale of lower-end department stores to Bon-Ton Stores (NASDAQ:BONT) and Belk, which also resulted in certain special charges this quarter.

Forward guidance in the earnings press release helped clarify Saks' outlook, but management fell short of offering concrete earnings expectations. What we do know is that the company will continue to emphasize product mix by individual store, expand its more profitable private-label apparel and other brands, and right-size corporate expenses and related functions.

The above and other moves are projected to translate into 4% operating margins, low-double-digit second-quarter comps, mid- to high-single-digit fall comps, and slight gross margin improvements toward the end of the year.

The strong sales trends are nothing to sneeze at, but Saks still has work to do to convince investors its high-end ambitions will translate into industry-leading profitability and cash flow growth. As it stands, Dillard's (NYSE:DDS) is stuck in the middle as a retail chain and the only peer to post operating margins lower than 4% over the last 12 months. Federated Department Stores (NYSE:FD) came in right at 4%, while Bon-Ton is proving the middle of the road pays with a 5.7% operating margin over the last year.

Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) managed to post double-digit margins in the past year and have also been growing sales and earnings rapidly. Saks' top-line trends suggest it is becoming a more consistent high-end retailer, but it has a ways to go to match Nordstrom in terms of snob appeal.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.