August 22, 2004 by Allen George
Department Store Dinosaurs
It’s a truisim in the retail industry that the age of the department store is reaching its nadir. They’re facing severe competition from that gigantic brute of a merchandising machine (aka Wal-Mart and they don’t appeal to the latest generation of consumers.
Why then, would Target want to buy HBC? The only viable reason I can come up with involves location, location, location. While Wal-Mart has to build its super-complex at every location it spreads to, Target, by making this acquisition is able to get a large number of prime retail locations with (probably) low-rent, long term leases. Since its had some success in fighting Wal-Mart in its own format, this, combined with anchor locations in key malls gives them a counterweight in Canada. Well…at least I think that’s the plan as Target’s managers see it.
Personally, I rarely (if ever) shop at department stores anymore and there are a number of underlying causes.
First, I am small. I take size 28 pants and small tops. This puts me outside the measurements of the ‘average’ Canadian or American male. Department stores, since they stock so many items, have to cater to the largest available consumer sector, which often means no size 28 pants and few, if any, small tops. I’ve had far more success finding clothes that fit me in smaller, more specialized clothing stores (i.e. those usually targeting a single demographic or selling a single manufacturer’s clothing). Even then, I’ve had much better luck finding 28 size pants in San Diego as opposed to Mississauga – comments on US obesity rates aside.
Second, the style. I find that I’m often less than thrilled with the clothes for sale in department stores. That’s not to say that they’re all bad but given the range of styles, those I find appealing are few and far between. I attribute this to the demographic from which department stores get most of their revenue. Consider this:
When was the last time you saw a teen/early 20 year old shopping by themselves at The Bay? or Sears?
I’d wager not often. When I was younger, my parents bought my clothes from a department store because it was more convenient for them. I, at that time, couldn’t care less and simply assented. Obviously, that’s not the case anymore. I suspect (no evidence) that a lot of the merchandise is sold like this. When I gained enough disposable cash and an interest in shopping for myself (and caring how I fit into clothes) I found myself spending less and less time in department stores…
Third, the atmosphere. The atmosphere in most department stores is best described as…soporific. You have the bland, elevator music in the background or a low adult contemprary band playing. Guaranteed not to offend. Although there’s noise, since the stores are so large, they seem silent. I’m not sure how to explain this best. I’ve noticed that The Gap seems to be this way lately. Maybe the age of their demographic is increasing too… Contrast this with Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister (as two examples). When I go into one of their stores, the music drives. I must admit I prefer Abercrombie’s taste as they tend to play more Euro and dance. But, the point is that you feel energized. Certainly, you’re able to tune out the music, but the mood, the energy’s already been set.
Do I ever frequent department stores or discounters? Certainly – but not often. Appliances, bathroom and kitchen accessories are the greatest draws. Another draw tends to be ‘basics’.
Define basics I hear you ask.
Underwear & socks. I often buy my socks from department stores and definitely my boxer briefs. Compared to the $20 USD I’d have to put down for a pair of AE boxer briefs, the $9 I’d have to pay for a 5 pack of Hanes is a positive bargain. Until recently I bought my basic white T’s and A-shirts from there and The Gap. However, after buying a pair of AE basic T’s that changed. The quality difference is (to me) worth the extra I’d have to spend. If I’m anything like a typical early twenty year old, department stores are in serious trouble clothing wise…