Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department Stores?

The bird´s cage strategy of department stores fashion retailThe Bird’s Cage Strategy is over. Millennials are running away from Department Stores.

A day in the life of a Millennial visiting a Department Store

Last week, I had (and say HAD/must) to visit a department store in Barcelona because I needed to change a Christmas gift. Department store’s business model is explained in many business schools but you just need to read the date of the case to understand that it was successful some time ago. Anyway, this post is not about the past, but the present.

Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department Stores?

During my “trip” to the Department Store (DS), I spent more than 30 minutes to park my car because there is only one entrance in their parking lot. Then, inside the “anthill”, I took the old automatic escalators that brings you easily to the upper floors. The problem is when you want to walk down… you get lost, going around in circles, feeling inside a labyrinth. It’s a bird’s cage!

El Corte Ingles Department Store

El Corte Inglés (where’s Waldo? Where are Millennials moving?)

I arrived on the third floor, Men’s apparel, and I searched for the corresponding shop-in-shop in order to change the size of a casual shirt. After a while, I found the corner but any shop assistant was nearby. It’s hard to find them surrounded by such amount of product, closets, and sale signs. Finally, I found a salesperson next to the cash register. Many people were queuing there and so did I to receive assistance (Again, a waste of time and patience). I didn’t feel any reason to linger.

Five minutes later, a man of around 60 years old, wearing an old, grey suit, with his name on a badge tried to help me. He was stressed and didn’t know about the brand itself. He accumulated shirts of my size without any consistency and not asking me what I was looking for (e.g. occasion, style, color, fit…). After taking a couple of shirts, I got into the fitting room, a dirty and old-fashioned place without mirror. I just wanted to pay and leave as soon as possible.

Department Stores are a waste of time, compared to shopping online. E-commerce sites usually make better recommendations than shop assistants and artificial intelligence is playing a key role improving customized marketing . The logical consequence is Retail’s Apocalypse. As Darwin said, the most adaptable species will survive. It’s time (maybe too late) to invest in CAPEX (renew the building, signs, display, add digital capabilities) and OPEX (train/ update sales assistants). Companies should think and work because of the customers and not the investors. Many deparments stores didn’t invest in improvements and renew their stores because of short-term investors obligations or short-term strategy. New generations like shopping offline, or at least, offline is part of their shopping experience. The key is filling the needs of the omnichannel customer in every contact point. Offline should cover the experience: taste, touch, sight… emotions.

New generations don’t have the same shopping habits than older generations

Department stores are struggling to get what the customer journey means. Millennials are spending less in products and more in experiences but some analysts are still surprised that many retailers are closing stores worldwide.


Today, it’s about quality and experience, not quantity (Put your stock / inventory online and give a great customer experience!).

I understand why Primark (fashion/”grocery” retailer) displays clothes like a supermarket displays bananas (business model based in volume), but Department Stores have to rethink their space because their value proposition is, many times, out-of-date. Department stores value proposition is to cover “all” customer’s needs in the same place. Most of the Department Stores don’t even have windows to look outside!

A Department Store that sells brands such as Ralph Lauren, Ermenegildo Zegna or Armani, amongst others, shouldn’t display stocks like fruit in a grocery store. Fashion retailers should rethink their expansion strategy in order to take the lead and define a consistent story telling, the omnichannel approach to their customers. Some of them have failed entering in a new market through department stores. Mango, the Spanish fashion retailer, has failed twice entering the US market for example. The latest attempt with JC Penney supposed the closure of more than 450 shop-in-shops.

It’s experience instead of merchandise.  Today, Offline fills the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Online the Bottom. Therefore, bricks shouldn’t play the game of selling fashion as a commodity (same for other categories).

Maslow Pyramid and Fashion Retail brands

Some people (more older than younger) like department stores because they are used to go there. Because they can finance their sales. Because they have a loyalty card that gives special discount. Because you can make a gift and change or return it easily. Because it’s practical/ functional to have everything in the same place (e.g. food, electronics, apparel, etc). But, does it make sense to have such a bad experience when Amazon or other online sites offer the same convenience? The only way to compete to Amazon and online is EXPERIENCE.

I also recommend you an article from Chain Store Age (CSA)Malls will become consumer experience spaces” by Al Urbanski.

15 responses to “Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department Stores?”

  1. […] Retail Apocalypse doesn´t mean that customers won´t buy anymore in physical stores. Some Department Stores and Malls are reinventing the point of sale thru digitalization, but for others, it´s too late and […]

  2. […] already made a comment about the lack of excitement of Millennials when visiting a Department Store (e.g. El Corte Inglés) and how fashion retail brands will need to offer more than piles of […]

  3. […] covering only fisiological needs (affordable, basic clothing)? The lack of excitement when visiting Departments Stores shouldn´t be replicated as retail expansion needs a different […]

  4. […] The Future of Department Stores. Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department… […]

  5. […] Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department Stores?, I commented how Department stores are struggling to get what the customer journey means. Today, […]

  6. […] new generations value experience and access over ownership, is no  longer a trend but a reality. Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department Stores? described how retail is not only about selling products. The reinvention or adaptation of retail […]

  7. […] have killed department stores! Such headlines have been raging for years now, amidst other stories of the “retail apocalypse.” […]

  8. […] stores need reinvention as Millennials are running away from them. New York is one of the cities where we can see more innovations in regards retail and […]

  9. […] stores need reinvention as Millennials are running away from them. New York is one of the cities where we can see more innovations in regards retail and […]

  10. […] Store layout redesign.  As commented on Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department Stores, in many stores, specially in mass-market ones, you get lost, going around in circles, feeling […]

  11. […] of their made-to-stock business model. The store was a “pretty warehouse”, as I described in Why is there a lack of excitement when Millennials visit Department Stores? But the changing society, enhanced by digitalization, is shaking traditional businesses up. Today, […]

  12. […] companies have written about how Coronavirus will change retail? What do you think about? Are Department Stores going to […]

  13. […] of authenticity. Sometimes, the only difference is their building facades. Then, if you visit a department store, you feel like being in a clean and tidy warehouse… But, did you visited Kith, Dover Street […]

  14. […] can move across segments is Michael Kors, that after a huge expansion across many channels (mostly department stores), the “brand” was damaged. If loyal luxury customers see their same bag everywhere, the […]

  15. […] but will grow from 7 to 9% while other segments (categories, distribution channels…) like Department Stores will decrease from 22% to 9%. Thred Up latest reports shows that with consumers seeking bargains […]

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