The demise of the department stores

closing down sale

Is this the beginning of the end for department stores?

I think it is a real shame that we are in danger of losing many well-known stores from our local High Street.

We’ve recently lost BHS, and other big names including House of Fraser and Debenhams are struggling to survive.

I live in Edinburgh and it always seems to be busy.  Lots of tourists, but lots of locals too still coming into town to do a spot of shopping, so you’d think these stores should be thriving?

As a style coach, I will miss them if they go.   My clients are not confident shoppers, they are often reluctant shoppers, and although department stores are large spaces they can be much less intimidating than the smaller, more intimate boutiques for someone embarking on their style journey:

  • You don’t feel under any obligation to make a purchase so browsing is easier
  • There is less embarrassment if there is nothing available in your size or budget
  • There is opportunity to compare brands and styles
  • You can be more touchy-feely with the fabrics and get a true idea of colours
  • It is a great place to pick up all the basic wardrobe builders

It is also my experience that women will make a day of it, spending a considerable amount of time in each store, so the whole look and feel of the place is important.


Have they failed to adapt?

With the rise in online shopping and the popularity of out of town retail parks these traditional High Street stores should really be upping their game and offering shoppers a real reason to come in.

mannequins in department store

I also think more could be done to improve the shopping experience, making the floor space easier to navigate, with enough space between rails and displays.

I’d like to not have to hunt for a mirror when I want to quickly get an idea if something might suit me or be worth taking the time to try on.

When I am helping my clients in the changing room I need to be nearby but not in the way of other shoppers.   I find that the layout of changing rooms doesn’t tend to consider that people aren’t necessarily shopping on their own and will often have friends and partners along to support them.

One of the key USPs (unique selling points) of the High Street store is the chance for us to try things on before we commit to buying, but providing cramped, stuffy, uncomfortable spaces just isn’t good enough anymore.

Most do still provide a café where we can stop for a rest and a chat, but they can sometimes lack a bit of comfort and ambience.  When it comes to toilets there is usually a queue out the door, the cubicles are small and difficult to access with bags of shopping, and quite frankly they are not very nice.  Why not put a bit of effort into making your regular store visitors feel more valued?

tea cups


Feeling nostalgic

I grew up with department stores.  It was a key part of a day out with my mum, gran, and sister and a reason to travel to the city centre.  They helped inspire my love of personal styling and fashion, so I do remember them fondly, although they are not the places they once were.

They are in a position to deliver a whole shopping experience, but they need to evolve and look after and value their core customers.  Yes, people will continue to buy online and at the new retail parks, and it’s great to have that choice and convenience now, but that doesn’t always meet all our shopping needs.  I believe there is still a place for 21st century style department stores on our High Street.

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