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Marketplace Tech

Department stores face an uncertain future

Mark Garrison May 12, 2016
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Pedestrians walk by Macy's flagship store in Herald Square on May 11, 2016 in New York, New York. The retailer faces a second year of sales declines, overall sales fell 7.4 percent to $5.77 billion in the quarter ended April 30.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Disappointing earnings results from Macy’s, Nordstrom and Kohl’s this week are underscoring just how rough things are for big department stores these days. There are a number of reasons, including competition from online retailers, discount clothing and fast-fashion stores. But there’s also the question of what stores have done to try to adapt to all the new competition and consumer change. Some who follow the industry don’t think they’ve done nearly enough.

“You walk into most department stores and it looks exactly the same as it did 20 or 30 years ago,” said Morningstar senior analyst Bridget Weishaar.

This comes as online shopping conditions customers to expect every color, size and style at our fingertips, along with quick checkout and easy returns.

“Department stores need to completely transform and most definitely become more consumer-centric,” said consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.

That can mean everything from better, more personalized customer service to increased convenience to exclusive items. Technology may help, if applied smartly.

“It’s not about having the latest gadget and the latest video signage in the store,” explained Rod Sides, vice chair of Deloitte and leader of its U.S. retail and distribution practice. “It really is using digital as a shopping aide to make it more productive, make it more effective and to be able to allow the consumer to move through it more quickly and find what they’re looking for.”

Otherwise, more and more of them may be looking somewhere else.

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