Department stores’ search for relevance

From a recent RetailWire blog post, I have some comments about the continuing struggles in the department store segment. Some of my concerns are based on the relevance of their merchandise content, and some are based on the “sameness” of the shopping experience:

There are two key “relevance” issues, especially pertaining to traditional department stores: First, are retailers using all of the technological tools at their disposal to enhance their brands? Are they leveraging today’s tools (mobile payment, RFID, and so forth) to improve customer service or simply to cut costs? And how has “omnichannel” (especially BOPIS) actually eroded the shopping experience? There is very little difference between shopping at Macy’s or Dillards today compared to 30 years ago, other than UPC scanning and more sophisticated POS terminals.

Second — and it always comes down to this — is merchandise content. I’ve shopped a lot of traditional department stores over the last few weeks, and I’m struck by how much inventory and square footage continues to be devoted to dressy career apparel for men and women. This may be the retailers’ sweet spot (as they see it), but the lack of adaptation to change is concerning. Do these stores not recognize that Boomers are retiring — and leaving the workforce — in droves? Do they not see that most Millennials are working in more casual environments and are shopping elsewhere for their wardrobe needs? (Add to this the slow reaction to the movement toward activewear-as-sportswear.)

Sometimes achieving “relevance” costs money — whether through new tech tools, more payroll or a fresh coat of paint. But mostly it’s about the products, brands and trends that stores choose to put forward.

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