The demise of department stores
They can never agree on anything!
They appeared first in the late 1700s and early 1800s in an era when the motor car was non-existent (the birth of the first car was in 1886).
The debate has raged for years – is the department store like a product with a life cycle – introduction, growth, maturity, and decline? And if it is, what stage in the cycle are we seeing now?
According to Wikipedia, this is the list of Australian department stores that are deceased:
- Anthony Hordern & Sons
- Ball & Welch
- Bright and Hitchcocks
- Buckley & Nunn
- Charles Davis Limited
- FitzGerald’s Department Stores
- Foy & Gibson
- Georges (store)
- H. A. and W. Goode
- Grace Bros.
- J. B. Young Ltd
- John Martin & Co.
- Marcus Clark & Co.
- Mark Foy’s
- Charles Moore and Co.
- Tom the Cheap
This long list would suggest that the department store is in decline and has been for the past 50 years.
Gone are the days in the 1920s and 1930s when department stores doubled in number.
In those days there was personal service and a touch of magic. Nowadays, it is sometimes difficult to find any kind of service, let alone personal service.
The struggle for survival is never more evident than on our doorstep which begs the question – can Myer and David Jones co-exist? Or does one have to go and if so, which one?
Are they on their last legs and should we be bracing ourselves to grieve over the demise of one of them?
In a highly competitive environment, the word ‘department’ lies at the heart of the challenge.
A department store strives to have every imaginable department under one roof. After all, that is the definition.
The founder of London’s first department store was William Whiteley, who opened the Bayswater, later known as the Universal Provider store in 1863.
Whiteley’s slogan was “Anything from a pin to an elephant” and it wasn’t just an empty boast – as he did actually sell one of the creatures to a clergyman.
The real golden age came in the Edwardian era.
In 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge opened his famous emporium on Oxford St.
“I am prepared to sell anything, from an aeroplane to a cigar,” he said.
But can department stores compete in selling aeroplanes and elephants?
Can Myer or DJ’s compete with JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman in electronics? Should they even try?
The flip side is to cherry pick which departments to have, but then the department store concept is under threat.
Department stores will never disappear completely. It’s similar to Armageddon. Something must survive – maybe only a cockroach!
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