Once up a time the department store was the bastion of the British high street.
A prestigious place where discerning customers went to enjoy the art of shopping and indulge themselves of a weekend.
I vaguely remember those times. My mother would drag a five-year-old around the women’s wear department browsing for something ‘special’.
Then once she’d located the object of her desire a willing, able and enthusiastic Mrs Slocombe-esque shop assistant would see to her every need.
Sadly fast forward a fair few decades and times have changed, dramatically.
For starters, the gloss has gone. I’m not sure when or what the tipping point was but they simply don’t feel like glamorous places to shop anymore.
I know for a fact my mother wouldn’t be dragging me up and down Oxford Street today.
And this brings me onto my biggest gripe.
I can’t remember the last time I was actually ‘served’ in a department store.
In some Oxford Street department stores sightings of actual staff are rare.
The last time I was foolish enough to spend a Sunday in a department store I was left exasperated and humiliated muttering words like, will someone, anyone, please just let me pay so I can get the hell out of here.
Selfridges is probably the only exception – on any given day people are spending money in there like it’s the last day on earth. Mostly tourists.
Following a £300million revamp, customers continue to be enticed by international designer collections, contemporary ranges, multi sensory art exhibitions, theatre productions and their stunning new Brasserie of Light people immerse themselves in Selfridges.
The luxury shopping haven has retained it’s uniqueness and maintained it’s exclusivity.
In October, Selfridges delivered record profits for the fifth year in a row.
Operating profit rose £1million to £181million in the year to February 3 2018 on the back of an 11.5% increase in sales to more than £1.75mln.
But the harsh reality is for most of us department stores just don’t factor into our everyday lives anymore.
And it’s been a long, slow deterioration.
Debenhams, whowent into administration this week putting 50 stores at risk, being a good case in point.
While the internet, tough competition and changing lifestyles transformed our shopping habits the ailing department store sat back and stagnated.
Instead of working harder to entice shoppers they simply did nothing.
Store modernisations and plans to reduce their shopping space were too little too late.
In this challenging retail market you need to work hard to encourage shoppers to walk through your doors – you need to offer a point of difference and give them a retail experience.
You also need to offer good customer service. A concept that retail visionary Gordon Selfridge conceived when he opened Selfridges in 1908.
The concept of shopping as a popular pass time signalled the dawn of the golden age of ‘shopping.’
But whose got time to shop these days?
Who wants to navigate an escalator? Ask for directions? Spend 20 minutes hunting down a shop assistant? Make purchases on multiple floors? Not me.
Shoppers, both young and old, have been tempted away by ’fast fashion’ retailers Primark, Zara and ASOS.
They make decisions based on brand, speed and price.
Social media has played a big part as shoppers forge relationships with brands that resonate with their lifestyles via apps like Instagram .
This has also enabled small niche brands to gain recognition.
Brands we would previously not have had access too. The birth of the online boutique has shaken up the system.
House of Fraser also failed to see that if you want to get customers to navigate a huge retail space you have to make it worth their while.
The department store collapsed into administration in early August putting around 17,000 jobs at risk.
Sports Direct bought House of Fraser out of administration for £90million but the comapny’s future remains uncertain.
The harsh reality is that House of Fraser offer brands you can buy elsewhere and their in-house offering hasn’t been strong enough to entice customers.
Interestingly, while the rest of the high street went into free fall John Lewis was busy investing; in its online platform and bricks and mortar stores.
They also cleverly expanded their fashion offering.
Their eponymous new John Lewis & Partners collection of stylish separates has hit the right note establishing a loyal customer base.
Throw a few heart warming Christmas ads and some cool pop up restaurant into the mix and what’s not to love?
What will high streets up and down the country look like in 10 years time?
Only time will tell but I’m pretty confident there won’t be a department store in sight.