I have to confess that I'm not much of a mall-shopper. When I have to dodge survey-takers, aggressive kiosk attendants, and breakaway toddlers, shopping is sometimes more of an obstacle course than a leisure activity. When the stresses of the mall get to be too much, though, Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) is a reliable oasis for window-shopping at a relaxed pace.

Judging by recent same-store sales trends, a lot of other people are ducking into Nordstrom and leaving with some full shopping bags. Sales in the fourth quarter grew 9.4% (with same-store growth of 7.2%), and EPS grew about 35% (including a non-cash accounting charge).

Nordstrom was already the king of retail inventory turnover, yet the company managed to improve that metric by 10% for the year. Although Neiman Marcus (NYSE:NMGa) is still the king of sales-per-square-foot, Nordstrom is well ahead of the rest of the pack.

The secret of Nordstrom's success is no real secret to people who've spent time in the stores -- not only is the merchandise and store decor appealing but also the service is top-notch, and the entire experience is made about as pleasant as possible.

Occupying a comfortable niche between higher-end retailers such as Saks (NYSE:SKS) and Neiman Marcus and mass-market chains such as Federated (NYSE:FD) and J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), Nordstrom has managed to draw from both customer groups and live the best of both worlds. Nordstrom ignored the siren calls of retail consultants and eschewed the down-market move that many retailers made in the late '90s. While many of those companies were hammered by the likes of Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT), Nordstrom carried merrily on.

While Nordstrom has of late done an excellent job of producing a quality shopping experience and stocking in-demand merchandise, the company had historically been slow to adopt technology. That has changed, and the company is now employing technology to improve its merchandising, inventory management, and store management functions.

While Nordstrom's move to technology has just begun, the company managed to improve the SG&A margin by 1.6% in the fourth quarter. As the company continues to roll out new back-office and store-floor programs, even more margin improvement may prove possible.

Retail stocks have been strong lately, and Nordstrom has gone along for the ride -- hitting a new high just yesterday. Although the stock is trading at a level that's likely above its sustainable future growth rate, the valuation isn't out of line for such a high-quality retailer. Besides, much like Nordstrom's merchandise, you don't often see these shares marked down in the bargain bin.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.