Millennials are Causing Department Stores to Close Down

By Caitlyn Mae Cairme

In the past year, 138 JCPenny's, 68 Macy’s, and 43 Sears and KMart stores have closed down.

Do you ever wonder why it seems like all major department stores have been disappearing? In the past year, 138 JCPenny's, 68 Macy’s, and 43 Sears and KMart stores have closed down. From high end to low end, each and every department store has noticed the sudden uninterest in customers purchasing goods from their facilities. Unless these stores are holding must-have deals, these department stores admit they have been having a hard time attracting customers. 


One main reason department stores are having these problems are because of millennials. Millennials have significantly changed the world of shopping. This new generation expects a shopping experience full of thrill and excitement. They want to touch, feel, and try on new products before purchasing them. They want to walk into a store and immediately be intrigued by a product, they do not want a sales associate to have to convince them that a product is intriguing.


This is an expertise that small retail stores excel in because they have less space to maintain, so they are able to use fancy lighting fixtures and display tables to make products seem more desirable and interactive. The way traditional department stores are set up is the complete opposite way of how millennials prefer to shop.


Traditional department stores either have uninteresting racks of clothing scattered throughout the store or have products on display where sales associates are required to cater to them. This is overwhelming to millennials. The merchandising of products does not seem like an important aspect in retail, but it is actually what attracts customers and helps drive a majority of sales. 



Another way millennials changed the world of shopping, is they do not want widely known, commercialized products. Millennials are all about the experience over products. For instance, they would rather buy a purse that is efficient and provides them with a positive experience than a less functional name brand bag. In addition, millennials want talking pieces. They want to be able to tell their friends that their bag is either locally-sourced or environmentally friendly. Many years ago, people bought from department stores because they wanted luxury items that they knew people already had, in order to remain in social status.


Now, millennials oversee the name brands of these products and are looking for goods that are different from what they have already seen or heard of. This millennial generation prefers products that have uniqueness and an artisanal look. When department stores were in its primes, it was because baby boomers wanted to keep up with their friends and family or have the same products as them, this is not the case for the new generation. 


Now of days, department stores’ biggest competition is the internet. It is so easy to click a few buttons and have packages delivered right to your doorstep. Especially in bad weather conditions, why would anyone want to leave the comfort of their own home? Also, who would want to go through the hassle of hectically walking through department stores in search of a product, when it takes a significantly less amount of time typing it into a search bar and clicking deliver.


Department stores used to be the only place where consumers could see such a broad array of products. Now that everyone has a smartphone that holds everything a department store would hold and more, the need of facilities is basically obsolete. As the use of smartphones and internet use has increased, the importance of department stores has declined.


The declined interest in department stores might have made more sense if retail, in general, was suffering. But total retail spending rose 4% over the holidays. Shoppers showed up; they just did not show up at department stores. This day in age, if customers wanted to buy a Michael Kors bag they would probably go to a Michael Kors store versus a department store because of the effortless and more experimental shopping experience.


Also, the shopper would be provided with more selections than they would at a department store. Retail stores are able to offer millennials with a more experiential shopping experience, where they can touch and feel new bags and products, because of their significantly smaller store space. Retail stores are able to portray a story to their customers, with a particular look and theme, once they walk in the door. 


If department stores want to get customers back into their stores, they are going to need to make a lot of changes and improvements. They are going to need to offer customers something they cannot just search on their smartphones. Stores need to be smaller and less overwhelming, so they can provide consumers with a more hands-on shopping experience. As Steve Sadove, a former Saks Inc. CEO and a former Penney director, puts it, “The world is moving faster than the department stores are adapting.”

Photo by Scott Webb