The end of the department store as we know it.

Shopping is much more difficult in department stores nowadays because they are no longer emporiums (emporia?). By emporium I mean a large store that sells everything or almost everything. This form of merchandising worked well in the past but lately, given that there is so much more on sale and less room to store it, department stores have become selective in what they are prepared to stock.

Therefore much of the furniture or whitegoods is no longer sold in a department store. Neither is technical stuff which is left to the specialist stores. All this makes perfect sense to a consumer who wants to have more choice than the department store provides.

What is not easy for the shopper, however, is when the department store leases out space to brand names of clothing. The sales staff of a particular brand have no idea what other products are for sale in the store, nor do they care, since they are not employed by the store. We then are faced with the annoying situation of not being able to find something, asking someone where such an item may be, and having the sales person tell you that he is unfamiliar with the rest of the stock since he only deals in a certain brand name.

This happened to us at David Jones yesterday. My husband wanted to buy a track suit since the weather is quite freezing in Melbourne. He was told by a few sales persons that there are no track suits, they think… to the best of their knowledge… as far as they know… since they actually do not work for David Jones. Apparently the season for Winter clothing is finished even though snow is falling around Melbourne. According to these folk, what my husband should now be buying is swimwear.

Too bad if this is the coldest winter for many years. Too bad if one wants to purchase a track suit. Too bad if one wants a warm coat etc. One should have bought all these items in Summer. There’s nothing more pleasant than trying on heavy clothing during a heat wave, is there?

Reminds me of the excuse that Target gave me when I went to buy an umbrella. The store was out of umbrellas because it had been raining for the past two weeks and so they had sold out. I would have thought this would have been an excellent opportunity for Target to fly in more stock from China and do some great selling, but no, just because it’s raining does not mean that Target would adapt to satisfy a need.

The problem is due to the fact that department stores have to order their stock well in advance and so they cannot cater for changes in demand. Consequently, they miss out on sales and we are left frustrated.

It’s time someone seized the opportunity of giving real service to customers. Dividing up a department store into a collection of mini-stores is not the answer. I preferred it when staff in David Jones worked for David Jones rather than for Tommy Hilfiger or Calvin Klein. Instead of competing with other brand names, a David Jones sales person was more interested in satisfying the customer first and foremost. I miss those days.


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