Are Department Stores Still Relevant?
By Erica and Karen
Department stores were our happy place when we were young, and for a long time after that. We bought our first fancy clothes there, and one of us once modeled teen outfits! Department stores were a destination when we needed to take a break from work. Or to celebrate a victory. Or to get a lot of shopping done all in one fell swoop.
Each had its own vibe and signature merchandise. Bergdorf and Neiman--refined, gilded and high end. Saks--high end too, but weightier and with a wider range. Bloomingdales--mod and hip. B. Altman’s and Lord & Taylor--dependable. Macy’s--something for everyone. We have a warm spot in our hearts for each and every one of them.
Those that still exist have largely remained true to the characters they had way back then. Some have disappeared, and others feel like they may be on the brink of extinction. But it’s not inevitable. We seasoned shoppers think they will flourish if they change a little, and figure out their unique place in the world of brands and the internet.
One big change they all made a while ago needs to go. They gave their apparel floors over to boutiques. And those floors got pretty quiet. We have written about atmosphere. Stores need to be interesting, special, a destination. Fun. With a point of view. And some energy. We have also written about customer service. Department stores were, and need again to be, customer-centric. Part of that is rearranging their floor space. Department stores need to offer their apparel differently than they have in the last decade or so. To be succinct, they need to give up on boutiques.
These days, only jeans and shoes are generally offered all in one place. It is easy to comparison shop--to try on lots of straight flowered jeans or sparkly flats in one place. But the same is not true with much else. Black pants, for example. You have to wander through a gazillion designer boutiques and floors with huge amounts of inventory to find a few pairs of black pants. Then you have to take off your clothes ten times to try them all on in different dressing rooms. The end of the world? No. But a pain? Yes.
If we wanted only to see Escada pants, we could go to the Escada store. But we go to department stores to see lots of different designers, including new ones that haven’t yet made it big enough to warrant their own place. And we rely on the buyers to find cool things that reflect their considered views about the best pants out there. That’s what’s fun, and unique, about shopping in a department store.
So here’s a thought. What about making it easy to see all black pants in one place? Jackets in another. Dresses in still another. Easy, efficient and fun. It might liven things up, too. We like our stores lively.
Give it a try?