Death of the Department Store?

Other / Canada

Remember Consumers Distribution, K-Mart, Eaton’s, and now Zellers? Well, if not, don’t even worry about it ’cause they’re all closed OR soon-to-be as in the case of Zellers. So what caused these stores to shut their doors, while places like Sears (barely breathing btw!), The Bay, and Walmart seem to thrive? Pause for a moment of reflection.

(Frankly, I’ve shocked that Zellers died such a long death. Secondly, I predict Sears will be the next victim  that place is always d-e-a-d, DEAD whenever I pass through!)

Lately, whenever I do walk through a department store, to get to the rest of the mall, it’s always a sad, depressing sight: Seniors rifling through already-picked-over clearance racks, Perfume Ladies with no one to spray :(, Beauty Counter Reps who turn their noses at you if you ask for help at another counter…where there isn’t anyone working, and the list goes on.

In terms of The Bay, it’s still ’round ’cause they’ve responded to what consumers want by bringing in better labels, including some exclusive to the States (Material Girl), promoting their Canadiana/Hudson’s Bay stripes come the Olympics, and bringing stores-within-stores like the UK’s Topshop/Topman.

So with news of US stores like Target and Nordstrom landing on Canadian soil, what will make them succeed here where others have failed? After all, isn’t Target kinda-sorta like Walmart with the occasional designer-collabo clothing and Nordstrom kinda-sorta like The Bay…with a better shoe department? What will Target and Nordstrom have to offer that we don’t already have? <– Lower prices, hopefully! 🙂

YES, Canadians embrace American novelty, think: Bath & Body Works, but after the initial months of business, don’t things take a nose-dive? Canadians also like and want the variety that America has to offer, yet we’re unwilling or simply unable to spend like our American counterparts, re: luxury market.

A friend of mine who recently went shopping in NYC was called “cheap” by a retailer who said, “You Canadians are CHEAP!”. So whether or not that’s a good thing, Canadians aren’t the biggest spenders. (Financially speaking, being cheap is probably a GOOD thing!) The luxury market just isn’t here, at least not yet. So Nordstrom, prepare to have lots of sales!

So going back to my original question, are department stores just a thing of the past?

33 responses to “Death of the Department Store?”

  1. DoodlesMom says:

    Wasn’t it Consumers Distributing? I loved that store…

    My Mom worked at K-Mart for years and I adored Eatons – especially the beautiful window displays every Christmas at the Eaton Centre in Toronto.

    I don’t like Zellers much, actually looking forward to Target – yes I know it’s American but then what these days isn’t? I remember when Walmart came to Canada and the commotion that caused when they took over the old Woolco stores … Remember them? And Towers?

  2. Christa says:

    I actually only go to the malls at Back to School & Christmas time, all the other times of the year I do mostly online shopping. I don’t know if department stores are dying though from what I saw last week. The kids & I went there on a Tuesday during our heat wave and I had made up a mall scavenger hunt to keep them cool and be out of the house. (I made up questions based on what the mall website said was in their directory and asked questions such as what’s the darkest coffee roast at Starbucks) ANYWAY lol, the mall was packed, the parking lot was in the overflow section, it felt like Christmas time as I drove around in circles looking for a spot.

  3. Clee says:

    Canadians are CHEAP because we have to give away 48% of our salary to the government (well at least here in QC).

  4. Miranda says:

    Since you mentionned Nordstrom, I went on their website today to purchase something. I went on their live chat because I needed more info and the representative told me the article about Nordstrom coming to Canada is incorrect. They actually have no plans to open stores in Canada. 🙁 Oh, sadness, lol.

  5. sally says:

    Lol, the rep is wrong Miranda. Its all over the papers.

  6. Gazpache says:

    I have fond memories of department stores. My parents split when I was 11 (I’m 28 now) and I visited my mom every Friday/Saturday. We’d always hop the bus and go to Eaton’s in downtown Winnipeg and then The Bay. We’d eat at either of their restaurants for lunch.. both had fabulous salad bars! Back then you could see the tide turning.. Eaton’s didn’t keep up with the times.. their fashions were geared solely towards the senior populations. Their prices were quite high on other items as well.
    I personally can’t stand The Bay anymore. Here they stock nothing but high end brands. Winnipeg is not a high end brand city. You don’t see people walking around in Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger. The Bay used to have merchandisers here in Winnipeg but when they restructured years ago they moved them all to Toronto. So there’s people in Toronto that decide what should be in Manitoba stores. Sorry.. but especially when it comes to winter items, there’s a HUGE difference between Manitoba and Toronto!

    Sears has terrible to non existent customer service and their clothes are terrible quality now.
    Zellers.. I’ve never enjoyed that store. I guess because all the Winnipeg locations have always been dirty dirty stores. It makes me feel dirty even going in them!

    I also don’t understand why department stores have to have the perfume counters. With the amount of people with asthma and scent allergies you’d think they’d get rid of them. I know I personally have to speed through them with my breath held or it’ll flare my asthma up.

    The reason why these stores are failing but ones like Wal-Mart are thriving is they didn’t adapt to the changing consumer currents. They dropped the ball big time.

  7. sue says:

    So many American department stores BUT in a manner very different from the Bays and Sears we grew up with. Now, there’s Kohl’s (my favourite), Nordstrom, Macy’s, Marshall’s, Beall’s, TJ Maxx, Yonkers. All of which are incarnations of the department store theme but much smaller. There is one in London (ontario) called Kings Mills which I adore. But can only afford to window shop at. Kohls in the states…I can spend US$80 and come home with 6-12 items ranging from clothing to housewares to birthday cards. Cannot do that at the Bay. And, quite frankly, the Bay has been out of my budget for the past 30 years.

  8. Elaina says:

    you know what is killing Sears and other department stores!? it is the plastic bag crap!

    all other stores found an alternative to plastic bags and have big paper bags, why is Sears so behind?

  9. hijinx25 says:

    Sears is in the process of liquidating here in BC (Pacific Centre) and it’s rumoured that Nordstrom’s will move in … however, NOT a cheap department store! Very pricey, I suppose because they carry high end merchandise. Kinda like a Holt Renfrew but on a larger scale.

  10. kerry says:

    I do think the department store is on fragile ground here in Canada.I don’t know anyone that goes to them anymore.Except me.I’ve always bought my clothes at the Bay,as I like there designer brands,and get them at terrific prices,when the season ends.I never liked Sears,thought Zellers was crummy, and didn’t frequent Eatons,but really miss Woolworth’s.We had 5 of them.years ago here in Vancouver.

  11. tearlessnights says:

    K-mart died years ago in the USA (same with sears). I forgot the name of the store that took it over.

    Target is an awesome store because of the clothing, accessories, and different makeup brands. Its thriving in the US because of those reasons.


  12. Seymour Butz says:

    What about Simpons,Woolworths, and Marks & Spencer? Long gone.
    Target will kill The Bay here. Sears could go soon after. With the internet who actually shops from a catalogue anymore?
    People are always sad when fixtures like these stores close down but the reason they fail is because they weren’t frequenting them to begin with. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Walmart getting into groceries, Loblaws getting into clothees (Joe), and the rise of Costco hasn’t helped either.
    Same story with old school hardware stores. Home Depot killed those guys and we have no one to blame but ourseleves.

  13. Bomy says:

    If you flash back to the early 90’s you’ll remember that Woolco was replaced by Walmart and now Zellers will be replaced with Target. I’m also surprised that Zellers managed to hold their own for this long. They hit their prime back in the day when they somehow managed to get Y&R’s Victor Newman to do commercials for them. Ultimately they didn’t offer anything different than Walmart and now that Walmart offers everything under the sun, it should be interesting to see what Target brings to the table.

  14. Nettie says:

    I agree with the poor quality of clothing that Sears offers now. I’ve often wondered, with the amount of catalogs that are in my mailbox in a given year, how do they still make a profit? Every time I order some type of clothing or shoes from them that isn’t a brand name I know, it is terrible quality and I send it back. I’ve learned to stick to only names I know are good, if I order from them. Still, their prices are usually higher than other prices.

    When I go to a Sears store and manage to find a section of clothing that isn’t aimed for senior citizen’s (which is a challenge sometimes), the prices are way more than the clothing stores within the same mall. I now tend to stick to clothing stores such as Eclipse, Bootlegger, Garage, etc, because they almost always have much better prices.

    It would be sad to lose Sears because it’s been around for so long, and is convenient in the odd time I ever need to order something from their catalog, but in all honesty, I won’t be surprised when/if they do close.

  15. J_Slo says:

    Consumers Distributing is actually making a come back, in Niagara Falls! I did enjoy Eatons and as a child loved visiting consumers, and looking through the catalogues.

  16. saver says:

    The dept. store model is certainly hurting right now. Didn’t several Sears stores close in the States already. Sears used to be my go to place for big ticket items like a tv or appliances but there are so many other places now. Target and WM are a bit different animal as most of their goods are more affordable. I don’t consider Canadian cheap they just aren’t frivolous and it doesn’t make sense to spend like crazy right now. I bet alot of those luxury goods are being purchased on credit in the US.

  17. Debbie says:

    I actually love Zellers and made a point to always shop there when I needed something – I wanted to support that store as it was Canadian. I am sad to see them go. I agree that Sears is terrible – their customer service is the pits and their clothes are not the greatest either.

    I shop for my daughter at Zellers, Old Navy or Joe Fresh. Their clothing for kids is reasonable and when they have a sale they are great sales!

    For my clothes I love Reitmans (great customer service), Jones New York (amazing clothes) and some local businesses here in town which I love to support. It comes down to the old adage – treat the customer how you would want to be treated. If you don’t they won’t come back.

  18. Mary Walsh says:

    Sears certainly was very busy when I was there last weekend but they had a terrific sale on. A Liz Claiborne “little black” dress for $10.00 that fit me perfectly is one example. The service was great. There is a huge new outlet mall to be built in NOTL at the QEW that will have many US outlets in it. Northern Reflections is a favorite store of mine but again only when sales are on, and Joe Fresh for kids clothing. So yes we Canadians are thrifty (and maybe a little cheap) . It will be interesting to see how everyone does once US stores start coming here more and more. So far their Canadian prices don’t seem much different than true Canadian stores and their pricing.

  19. Astrogal says:

    I grew up in the States so I have both American and Canadian perspectives. By the way, Sears and K-Mart in the States are still open, just fewer of them exist. Anyway, I think the problem comes down to prices. Things are just cheaper in the States, in general. I look forward to Target coming over (not Nordstrom, not in my budget). It’s kind of like an “upscale” Wal-Mart lol. I just want more options and to see familiar American brands coming over. And let’s not kid ourselves, many venerable “Canadian” institutions are now owned by U.S. conglomerates (including Zellers, The Bay, Winners, and the like – look it up on Wikipedia). I grew up on JC Penney, Sears, Burdines, and similar stores. Problem is when they come to Canada they are too expensive. Compare prices at Gymboree U.S. vs Gymboree Canada for instance (it’s right on the labels). I really hope that Target can keep its lower prices here. Marshall’s seems to be doing pretty well here. And yes, it is like another Winners. But again, it’s just more options. There are tons of stores in the States that we don’t have here, I’d love to see that competition brought over the border but maintaining the same low prices. And yes, I have heard that Canadians do have a reputation for being “cheap” in the States, however I think Canadians are just more careful about avoiding debt and buying more than they can afford (although with Canada’s rising debt to income ratio even that is debatable now)

  20. Affie says:

    I’m not at all surprised at Zellers because they have THE WORST customer service. Sears is only surviving because of catalogue sales and the older people who don’t know any better than department stores. Walmart and Target will succeed because they’re cheap and they have great items for the younger generations. I am loving The Bay right now. They’ve done a great job.

    I also loved Consumers Distributing when I was little. Oh, flipping through the glossy magazine, ordering, then seeing my shiny boxes come out of a hole in the wall…good times.

  21. Jane says:

    I actually prefer the small specialty stores to the big department stores. There’s a better chance the employees will be able to help you get exactly what you need when they specialize in only one type of product (clothes, electronics, cookware, etc)
    when was the last time you asked someone in a big department store for a recommendation & they could actually give you one?

  22. Theresa says:

    Totally agree about Sears. Every time I am in there I wonder how much longer they can survive. Their customer base seems to be 65+…..and I think that is because people that age still believe in store loyalty. I still go there sometimes because I was raised on Sears and K-Mart. Hard to think there is a whole generation of kids out there who have never known Consumers Distributing, K-Mart, Bargain Harolds, Towers or Woolco.

    People are brainwashed into believing that walmart is the cheapest on everything and that kills the competition. Sad.

  23. Gina says:

    Zellers was so much more expensive than wal-mart, it made it hard to shop there, even Mom worked there and we got the employee discount!

  24. Fab says:

    And let’s not forget “Simpsons”…..

  25. Trent says:

    Higher prices, poor customer service, and not subscribing to the scanning code of practice have driven me away from Zellers. I can’t wait until Target arrives. I’m hoping for a major improvement.

  26. Mark says:

    I remember when I was a kid Consumers Distributing never had stock of the toys I wanted like GI Joe and Nintendo games. It was lucky if they had what I wanted from their catalogue. It always took forever for it to come out from the back and I remember the elation I would get when I saw it come out the conveyor. That strategy was smart so they didn’t lose much stuff to shoplifters “shrinkage”.

  27. MoJo says:

    Just returned from a 2 day shopping trip to Detroit area. Found some bargains at the back of stores on their sale racks otherwise, prices were generally in line with Canadian ones. Quality shoes are so much cheaper there. Previous comments about online purchases are valid and I do a fair bit of it myself. When reflecting on department stores, prices and availability of “stuff”, we also have to consider the fact that U.S.A. has over 310 million people to shop while Canada has 35 million (approx.). Canada is a huge country with vast distances between major cities to transport items so there’s an added cost right there. We also have minimum wages for all employees (don’t think any of us want to give that up) so there are higher overhead costs to all stores. Our tax rates are much higher but do any of us want to give up our health care and quality education – even with the difficulties they’re going through lately? I generally have a “shop in Canada” attitude, except when my hubby’s going on 2+ day business trips and the accommodation is free. With three young adults in my house, two of whom are in department store retail, I think we have to consider more facts than the price on the label.

  28. Annabean says:

    I live near Ottawa and was SHOCKED to hear on the news this morning that Sears in the Rideau Center is closing! I have to wonder what they are going to put in a huge space that they have….and if one of the most popular and OLDEST malls in Canada cant keep Sears a-float can anything? I love the mall…But Department stores like The Bay and Zellers are either to over priced or have nothing but garbage items ( in the case of Zellers) I will say though that I will be hitting up the sales when they do go and hopefully this “cheap” Canadian will find some good deals.

  29. Cindy says:

    I completely agree with Debbie i absolutely love Zellers. They always have those crazy sales even though they’re prices are always low as it is!

  30. kerry says:

    seymour,I forgot about Marks and Spencer’s.We had a shop here in Vancouver on Robson St.and I miss my English treats.I forgot to include Woodwards,also.

  31. Tracy says:

    It’s a vicious cycle here in Canada… we want the cheap prices, support the stores that have the cheap prices, then cry when we lose the jobs and more expensive shops. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to losing these stores.

  32. Sara says:

    FYI- the Bay (Hudson Bay Company) owns Zellers. It was not its own company. Like Eatons, Simpsons, Kmart etc.

  33. Mrs Doubt flyer says:

    I love most American stores. Department stores are best when they offer great savings, even if it means the quality sucks. People want more bang! for their buck. That is why walmart is doing so well. Zellers is ok, but not compared to dear wallyworld. For clothing, Sears, and the bay are pricier but then again I have never really compared clothing quality at those stores, I much prefer cheap more fashionable clothes at H & M for instance.

    So if Zellers is sold, then what will happen to the bay?
    I am welcoming Target with open arms *huggles side of their building*


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