The Death of the Department Store

First, on a lighter note, happy Memorial Day to all my American readers, and happy Monday to everyone else! I’m taking a slight detour from talking about skincare today to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to me: malls, shopping for clothes, and the closure of long-time retailers. It is safe to say that if I was close to you in any way in the first twenty-five years of my life, I have probably gone to a mall with you. I spent a lot of time there with my grandma and my mom, especially. Out of all the department stores available, JCPenney was surely my mom and I’s favorite.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 set off a chain of bankruptcies and store closures, since the physical locations are now closed, and the spending that may have occured online is partially curtailed from those who lost their income. Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, my beloved JcPenney, and now Lord & Taylor have joined the ranks of the, well, fallen, along with their dearly departed relatives, BonTon, Sears and Toys R Us.

Let’s be real, though, these stores have been struggling for years. Of course, the failings are largely in part to bad or poorly executed business moves Failure to boost their online presence, failing to adapt their physical locations into the strip malls or smaller storefronts that are now gaining in popularity, poor labor conditions, failure to secure on-trend and relevant suppliers, siphoning 90% of the company’s income to a few choice CEO’s (ok, I might be exaggerating just a little), just to name a few.

What I’m here to talk about today are the issues I had as a consumer. Obviously, my complaints as an individual are not, and never will be, what sunk these companies ships. But I can’t help but feel I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Get a couple thousand of us who have similar sentiments, and you, as a company, have lost just a tiny piece of your income over the next few years.

Design – No shade if you own any of these shirts. But does anyone look at these shirts and think, “this is an inspiring, long-lasting staple in my closet”? To me, it looks like the end result of a K-Mart shopping spree in 1998. I wouldn’t personally market these in the 25-45 year old woman demographic, but JcPenney seems to think that’s the way to go.

On the flip side, we have companies like J. Crew who have tasked themselves with selling more fashion forward pieces. Sure, this dress looks cool right now, but is it worth the pricetag if you’re only going to wear once, maybe twice, if you’re lucky? Is this going to be cool in a year? And that type of fabric/material… don’t you break out into hives just by looking at it? (I know I do!)

Price and Quality – As a business, your end game is to buy a product from a supplier or a wholesaler on the cheap, sell it at a little bit of markup, and viola, there’s your profit. But as someone who’s been shopping for, well, their entire life, I am now mostly able to determine bad from good quality. If you’re trying to sell me a tank top for even as cheap as $11, and I pick it up and realize it feels like it’s a stiff paper bag and that the hems will roll up after one wash, I’m not going to buy it, even if it is only $11. And if you, a store, tells me that you bought it from your supplier for $9 — then you better drop your supplier, fast!

This was J. Crew and Gap’s biggest undoing, in my opinion. I don’t want to walk into a store that’s trying to sell me a “high-end” lifestyle, and pick up a skirt or a shirt that’s displayed on the rack that already has wrinkles in it’s short-longevity fabric, all while boasting a $50 price tag. Especially when a company had been known in the past to only provide well-made items (I’m looking at you, Gap!)

Contending with the Internet – have you ever gone onto Walmart’s online site and noticed how slow it is, no matter how fast your internet connection is? that’s because it’s bogged down with zillions of items. It makes the online shopping experience with them really unpleasant. Macy’s and Kohl’s are also notorious for having websites with heavy-load times. I’m no master website designer or server administrator, but in the year 2020, there has to be a way to somehow circumvent this.

And sure, having an online presence is big. But just because you went online and made the shopping experience more convenient, isn’t going to stop the consumer from comparison shopping. Case in point:

What a cute Nike hoodie from Kohl’s! I don’t know about $45 for it, though. Let’s see what else is out there.
oh what do you know, this is $9 cheaper on EBay, new with tags and has another color option! Just need to check out the seller and make sure they’re legit. See ya Kohl’s!

Inclusivity – For the most part, department stores haven’t really changed their approach to modeling clothes. And I get it, to some extent — using a thin model to show off an item would, in theory, bring attention to the item itself instead of the models’ typically static features. But not everyone has a 25 inch waist or thin thighs.

I think a sign of a good clothier, or someone who has invested in good suppliers and designers, is a company that sells clothes that conceivably look good on most people. An arduous task, I’m sure — everyone’s bodies are different!

Now, American Eagle and Aerie are no saints in the industry. Their sweaters still pill in the wash. But I love seeing the models on their website. They’re just so much more realistic. Sometimes I even see models who have the exact same features as me, and it makes me feel more inclined to buy the clothes, since it’s proof to me that, I too, an average person, can look good in these outfits.

In short, I’m sure no big-box retailer is going to stumble across my post and have some great revelation over how they’ve been “doing it all wrong”, according to one girl who lives in a little city. I am really going to miss the exciting aspect of stepping into a mall and wondering what you were going to see that day. But writing this post was a reminder to myself that, in a way, some of these retailers dug their own grave. ~A

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