Department Store Dinosaurs


I’ve read a lot about Target eyeing The Bay as a takeover target and I wonder:


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…


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Abercrombie had me laughing the last time I went in. I wondered if I were in a clothing store or a dance club ;)

    And hey, I fall under the 6 foot, 180 to 210 lbs, caucasian male, aged 18 – 40. It’s great to be the target demographic ;)… alas, despite MANY pants being about my size, my particular build isn’t catered to and it’s hard to find pants that fit :(

  • When I went to Buffalo earlier in the term, I needed to go to an American Mall – they are a different experience from Canadian malls to be sure – and I know of many American mainstays, so I checked it out

  • [nods sagely]Oh…I see.

    All humor aside, I’ve found that malls here are somewhat different. Mostly in execution and the atmosphere (for the outdoor malls) is markedly different at night… But were you thinking of something else?

  • We went to a mall in Auburn Hills (north of Detroit) this term. It was the nicest mall I’ve ever been in; very roomy. Picture the second floor of Square 1, except even more spaced out and a more comfortable decore.

    Contrast that with the first floor of Square 1, which I think is the ugliest mall I’ve been in.

    The mall in Auburn Hills didn’t have an A&F. I’ve never been to one and want to just to see what it’s like.

  • The American Mall is an eperience only found in America. Other countries – like Canada – try to replicate the experience, but fail. Each store exclusive to the US is distinct in it’s personality and quality of products. Heck, the food court alone of most malls is great.

    I do know the big outdoor mall in San Diego, and i love that mall. It doesn’t have THAT many stores, but the atmosphere – especially at night – more than makes up for it. I liked the way the “food court” was layed out. Ate dinner there every night in San D. just because we were conserving money. Breakfast was purchased at the grocery store up the street from that mall.

    Oh, and for the record: I must be an atypical clothing shopper for our age group… I’ve NEVER purchased something from The Gap, and the only thing I purchased from Old Navy was a pair of jeans once. If I own anything from a store that’s brand name, more than likely it was a gift ;)

  • Exactly why is it an experience only found in America?

    To be quite honest, having lived here from 4 months I think that there’s nothing _markedly_ different here than in Canada.

    Don’t think the food court is that special. It’s the same thing. Neon lights, plastic seating, janitors with mops roaming. UTC may be slighly different in that there’s outdoor seating as well, but come on – that’s superficial!

    There are two outdoor malls that I know of. UTC and Fashion Valley. I’m not sure _why_ you found the atmosphere at night (I classify night as 7 – 8 PM) special. Most of the time, the place empties out significantly around then…

    It sounds like you were at UTC because there’s a grocery store up the street, but [puzzled] La Jolla’s a pretty weird place to stay for ComicCon.

    I’d like to point out that you also bought 3 pairs of exactly the same shoe. :P I wouldn’t say that either you, nor I are the ‘typical’ teen/early 20 year old.

  • Ah, during comiccon, UTC was populated by MASS amounts of comiconners around 7 – 8 PM. TONNES of people from the convention.

    Ah, you’ve been there for 4 months. Try coming back, and you’ll notice a difference. Being there for long enough has made you adjusted.

    Food court presentation is different. Compare Taco Bell in Canada to American Taco bell. you’ll NOT find the same menu items. The American menu advertises “GET A BIG MASSIVE THING” and the drink alone was bigger than I’ve ever seen in Canada Taco Bell. Canadian menu advertised those small tacos for 69 cente on Monday and Tuesday.

  • Umm…not really Paul. Ask Allister – UTC’s nothing special :-)

    Re: your second point. I’ve got a short sentence:

    “That’s why obesity’s such a problem in America”

  • [really puzzled now]

    Paul…Allister and I live 3 minutes walking distance from UTC (University Towne Center) in La Jolla.

    I think that you must be confusing UTC with something else – or there’s another UTC that you’ve been to that we haven’t

  • Then it was probably fashion valley. I never left the downtown core while at comiccon. Down the street from the place (a good 5 – 10 min walk) was the 24 hour grocery store. So during comiccon, this outdoor mall – whichever one it was – was hopping at night.