“Holidays cast pall over department stores,” reads the headline on an Associated Press story by Joseph Pisani.  “The future of department stores seems bleak as they close locations — and thus give shoppers fewer options at the mall and more reason to just stay home and shop online,” the article states.

The demise of department stores is not good news for independent retailers located in malls anchored by one or more of these giants.  The decline in traffic will be hard on all the other stores that depended on the department store to draw customers.  Pisani quotes Mark Cohen, a retail studies professor at New York’s Columbia Business School as saying “I don’t think there are any happy endings.”

We are all facing some of the same challenges that are hurting department stores: deep discounting of all types of merchandise, free shipping on even small purchases, and a decrease in interest in buying products other than smartphones and other gadgets — or experiences.

But unlike department stores, independent retailers have the ability to be nimble.  Professor Cohen points out that these huge retailers “are stuck with a large number of stores filled with merchandise customers don’t want to buy anymore.”   Change comes slowly when you are managing a three building location with over 1 million square feet, which is the size of the original Dayton’s flagship store in downtown Minneapolis that Macy’s will close this year.

Your shop is undoubtedly smaller, and hopefully not filled with products that customers don’t want to buy anymore.  If it is, you need to clearance these slow selling items and bring in new merchandise.  Keep track of how long merchandise lingers on your shelves by using dated price tags or a POS system that provides this information, and do markdowns regularly.

It’s also important to bring in new merchandise frequently. Meet with reps, go to trade shows, peruse catalogues and web sites to find goods your customers haven’t seen before.  Cohen points out that some of the fashion stores competing with department stores have succeeded by adding new designs often.  Changing your displays and your merchandise selection keeps your store fresh, and hopefully keeps customers coming back.  Stay successful by being nimble in your buying and alert to all your expenses.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder