In recent years, things have grown increasingly bleak for the high street. Various iconic British brands folded and disappeared throughout a struggling economy, then a boom in e-commerce. In 2018 alone, it seems like every other week another store goes into administration. Onlookers like to blame the shift in shopping habits on our newer technology-dependent reality. While it is true that times have changed, there is more to this issue than the convenience of online shopping. The department store was an institution, but the downfall of this retail format is looming because it is out of date. Which changes will save department stores?
Why is the Department Store Dying?
Chain stores seem to be dropping like flies. Poundworld, Maplin, and even international giant Toys R Us went bust within the same few months. Stores like New Look and Marks & Spencer are struggling, with House of Fraser narrowly being saved from administration. At the same time, larger department stores like John Lewis and Debenhams have been taking worrying hits to their profits. Physical sales are slumping partly due to the growth of online retail. Stores are struggling to compete with online retailers offering more, all in one place, for less money. There is also the added convenience of home delivery and expanding parcel return facilities. Some stores try to utilize online shopping, delivery, and collection, but it isn’t helping their own physical stores. Another reason why they are seeing less footfall is that their retail models simply don’t appeal to customers anymore.
What is the Modern Shopper Looking For?
Yes, the ability to order online is a huge draw these days. But sometimes shopping in person is necessary, to see and touch products for yourself and even try things on. The problem with stores is that with so little investment, they fail to provide the important services that customers would actually look for. Lack of changing rooms, untrained staff, and no opportunities for involvement leave customers feeling unwelcome, and unwilling to waste precious time browsing the endless racks or shelves packed into a confusingly divided space. With the rise of social media and emphasis on ethical responsibility, customers are fuelled by brand loyalty. They aren’t loyal to poorly organized physical spaces – especially if the brand running the store has nothing of individual importance to offer. Modern shoppers don’t want a boring transaction, they want a unique experience.
How Can Department Stores Save Themselves?
The major mistake that failing stores have made is to neglect their branding and customer experience. The ones that are still managing to thrive, like Selfridges, offer an exclusivity, focusing on experiences that the customer cannot have anywhere else. Department stores selling large amounts of stock which are available elsewhere are at a disadvantage. What makes them stand out from their competitors? What about them inspires loyalty in their customers? This is why it is important for brands to “stand for something” and promote values in line with their products. They need to make themselves important to a community instead of seeming out of touch. On that same note, department stores need to embrace technology and incorporate it instore, instead of letting it get ahead of them. Art installations, fashion exhibitions, product trials and tutorials, seasonal workshops, classes for relevant skills and interests – these are just some of the things department stores should be working into their business plans to draw customers through the doors again. They need to look at both the smaller picture and the bigger picture at the same time.