We’ve been talking recently about department stores – specifically, the incline and change in retail that occurred as a result of department stores, as well as their original purpose. Department stores were the logical evolution of brick and mortar in the late 1800s. Before department stores, there were mom-and-pop shops. Those developed into the mercantile (think Little House on the Prairie). But as people moved out west and our economy shifted from agriculture to commodities, the department store became the mainstay – Macy’s formed in 1858, Bloomingdale’s in 1861, Sears in 1893.
What Made the Department Store more Successful?
Not only did department stores sell everything people needed to clothe themselves and furnish their homes, but they took advantage of the fact that, for the first time, consumers had disposable income. Department stores provided demos, offered lectures, and hosted entertainment events. Shopping was – get the irony here – an experience. By the 1920s, people were buying on credit, and by the 1950s, they weren’t just headed to a single department store, but instead to shopping malls that had under one roof their favorite department stores, along with a handful or more of specialty shops. Of course, the same thing that brought malls into favor – a fun way to shop at your favorite places while visiting with a few friends, dining in a restaurant, and enjoying a day out – became their downfall as malls across America and the department stores in them became homogenized duplicates.
Can Department Stores Regain Relevancy Post-Pandemic?
As retailers head into the holiday season (i.e., right now), they will both serve as models, as well as guinea pigs, to determine whether department stores are still relevant. The New York Times predicts a pretty slim likelihood of survival for most department stores. Retail Dive is keeping a running list of those who have already filed for bankruptcy. Several other retailers were already in peril when COVID-19 hit. But when department stores reopen, they need to be ready to offer something different.
What Are You Doing Now to Be Prepared?
What data are you collecting about your customers so that you can understand how their habits have changed? Are you noticing the shift in population centers that is happening because more people will be permanently working from home so they can live in one city and work for a company in in another city 800 miles away? How are you responding?
Just as the world experienced a sense of exhilaration when emerging from the Spanish Flu, people are going to be starving for places to go, things to do, stuff to buy, and most of all, for the experience of it all. The retail landscape and the overall economy could very well bear a resemblance to the Roaring Twenties next year or the year after.
The question is: Will your brand be there to take part in it?