A new take on the traditional department store format

A visit to a traditional department store often goes something like this: one enters into a large welcome hall, with a panorama of brands selling make-up and perfumes, customers are misted with the latest fragrances, pushy sales consultants wait for their chance. The adjacent aisles display handbags, accessories and gifts, mostly aimed at tourists and out-of-towners. At the top of the escalator is men’s or women’s clothing, expansive floors with shop-in-shops where collection after collection is sold. Above the fashion floors are sometimes home furnishings, technical articles or books, often the quietest areas, except for the restaurant on the top floor. It may sound traditional, but this format is quickly becoming obsolete and no longer attracts customers as it did in its heyday.

The pandemic has triggered an undeniable shift in consumer demand, with department stores recovering more slowly since reopening after lockdowns. The disruption and challenges to the retail format have been felt for years, which is why the incumbents such as BHS, Debenhams, JC Penney, Sears, Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Hudson’s Bay, and a long list of other names have all faced bankruptcy. , liquidation, closure, new ownership, refinancing or new management. These department stores saw their sales fall by an average of 18 percent during the pandemic, one of the largest declines in the retail sector. As for those crowded store floors, clothing saw sales plummet 25 percent.

Beeld: Barneys via Shutterstock

Golden years behind us?

Despite the reopenings, the number of department store visitors continues to decline. The question to be asked is how will these stores, in a post-Covid era, meet the needs of the new normal? Shopping behavior will calm down as the pandemic becomes less of an everyday problem, but it remains to be seen which retailers will attract the most interest.

The original marketplace

Department stores were once large marketplaces and one-stop shopping destinations. But as e-commerce continues to grow, most of the products found in department stores can be easily purchased online, not to mention other stores, often on the same high street. Without significant product differentiation there is too much uniformity and too little innovation. Gen Z and Gen Y are the value-oriented generations, who attach importance to experiences, sustainability, authenticity and value. They should be a major focus of any retailer’s strategy.

A new era of retailing

Customers have higher expectations of omnichannel experiences, from same-day delivery to choosing when, where and how to receive goods, even if they purchase in-store. Innovative retailers are testing new store formats, using floor space to launch new concepts, transforming traditional departments into hybrid showrooms and, above all, offering a superior mix of products to drive traffic back to the store.

less fashion

Not everything a retailer sells has to be found in the physical store. By moving to a digital-first strategy, companies can test whether customers are brand or category loyal. Marks & Spencer has reduced sales of formal wear, but instead of moving it to online and recognizing that the category has faded away for many but will always be needed, customers are choosing to shop elsewhere as it is no longer available.

In addition, the pandemic was a warning to eliminate what we don’t need: wardrobes full of clothes that are rarely worn. Every high-street shopping trend, lured by cheap prices, has lost its luster and has been proven to be unsustainable consumption that is harmful to both people and the planet.

Assortments have to change a lot to win back both old and new customers. Changing category demands, such as more home furnishings, experiential retail spaces, less old-fashioned over-the-counter beauty products but more wellness and personal care will resonate with a consumer of the new age. In short, offers less of the same.

For fashion, interesting capsule collections and collaborations with brands that focus on exclusivity will have more impact than traditional retailing. As luxury brands scale down wholesale, finding new ways to partner with established houses is also an opportunity to focus on new channels, lesser-known designers, smaller ranges and own-brand collections.

Focus on local

Local shoppers are triggered by convenience and many department stores have enormous goodwill with local communities and loyal customers. By leveraging their strong positioning and listening effectively to what customers want, they will exceed expectations and secure a post-Covid future.

The shift to e-commerce has seen the world’s Amazons, Alibabas and Walmarts spend more money on innovation and technology than any retailer, creating exceptional shopping experiences and capturing extraordinary amounts of data to continuously improve customer service.

What they don’t have, however, is a personal relationship and the physical appeal that our beloved high street department stores abound with. Convenience aside, department stores offer a place of connection, discovery, and experiential satisfaction that you don’t get by clicking a button to add something to the cart.

Image: Pexels

This article first appeared on FashionUnited.UK, then translated and edited into Dutch by Ilona Fonteijn.

Source: fashionunited.nl by fashionunited.nl.

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