Department Decline

Every holiday season, my grandmother would yell at me to bundle up and we’d get on the blue line train. “Downtown Crossing” would boom over the train speakers and the doors would slide open to reveal a less than spectacular subway tunnel platform. Walking up the stairs the smell would come first, roasting sugared peanuts. Then the twinkling lights. It was magical.  

There were so many giant stores, but we’d always head to Macy’s. By this point in my life I knew upon seeing the red logo what I was in for. Hours of shopping, long lines and too many people for my taste.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed the decline in lines, and people within department stores. You’d think the kid in me would be thrilled, but in all actuality I’m a little sad. I don’t think I had realized that part of the magic was the people.  

We kicked off 2017 with the news that Macy’s would be closing as many as 100 stores and they’re not the only retail giant we’ve heard similar news from. Sears, Kohls, JC Penney, and others are also closing brick and mortar locations as well. By most accounts, it was a strong holiday season for American retailers, but department store sales plummeted. While other stocks soar, department stores’ drastically decline. This should be no surprise though, the start of 2016 yielded similar news in which most mall anchor stores like the aforementioned JC Penney, Sears and Macy’s reported store closings. It’s a trend that will continue until we no longer see the traditional anchor’s we’ve come to know and love.

We as consumers have grown more and more comfortable buying everything online. Black Friday is falling to the wayside as Cyber Monday takes it’s place and Amazon continues to see rises in sales. We want huge selections at our fingertips at deeply discounted rates and we want them now. Department stores fail to deliver that need. It’s not uncommon to see merchandise from two quarters ago still featured on department store racks. The department store model is too slow moving for a generation that expects new things quickly and constantly. Even last minute shoppers are turning to e-commerce as shipping practices rapidly expand and improve.

By no means though, does the rapid expansion of e-retailers mean the death of the brick and mortar store model. Fast-fashion apparel retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara are still thriving and it’s largely in part due to their ever changing stock and lower prices. If larger retail stores can take a page from their books, I think that they’ve got some fight left in them yet.

If there’s anything I love, it’s an unbelievable comeback.