Flash sale websites aren't just for dot-coms anymore.

Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN) -- yes, that Nordstrom -- is buying HauteLook.

A department store chain tossing its hat into the growing frenzy of deal chasers may not make sense at first. Most of the big splashes in this space have come from new media darlings.

Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) acquired Woot.com and made a $175 million investment in LivingSocial. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) failed in its attempt to land market leader Groupon.

Then again, HauteLook reaches out to 4 million bargain-seeking fashionistas. Even a Nordstrom chain that doesn't associate itself with steep apparel markdowns will be able to make the most of the situation to promote its brand while drumming a creative outlet to clear yesterday's unsold fashions. One can also argue that Nordstrom's buying team may be able to smoke out some great in-store deals out of this. The site could also open new opportunities for Nordstrom's suppliers. 

At the very least, this gets Nordstrom's foot in the door.

HauteLook serves up 48-hour sales on fashions and accessories carrying markdowns of 50% to 75%. Like most social shopping sites, HauteLook is free to join.

This isn't just about closeout specialist Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK) losing ground in its apparel category. Upscale departments stores have been fretting about the growing popularity of niche leader Gilt, HauteLook, and GSI Commerce's (Nasdaq: GSIC) Rue La La eating into their sales. Nordstrom may not have a solution, but at least now it will be able to cash in on the problem.

Nordstrom's $180 million deal should close next month. It could also shell out as much as $90 million in Nordstrom stock over the next three years based on HauteLook's performance and if its management team sticks around. The deal will naturally be dilute to earnings in the near term, but this obviously isn't about today's bottom line.

If there's any surprise here it's that Google didn't step up here. The world's leading search engine recently launched Boutiques.com. eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) also would be a logical player here, beefing up last year's launch of Fashion Vault.

Does this mean that Google and eBay now try to outbid one another in pursuit of Gilt? That would be quite the Gilt trip!

In the end, even Nordstrom knows that there's money to be made by staying close to thrifty fashionistas.

What do you think of flash sale websites? Are they disruptive or do they represent opportunities? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders if social coupons will be a passing craze or if thriftiness is forever. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.