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Can Brands Do Without Department Stores?

Coach Store, visual merchandising, product.

This is what I love about retail. It is in a constant state of flux. In good times, it’s about outpacing the competition; in bad times, it’s about protecting your flanks. Are we in good or bad times? I have no idea.

What I do know is consumers still want what they have always wanted: to feel good about their purchases.

And that’s what makes this interesting. Does Coach need department stores? Maybe not as much as they used to. Do department stores need Coach? Nope.

They might think they do, but the magic of a department store is the thrill of the new. What department stores need from brands is great, exclusive stuff. Maybe this is a big opportunity for Tory Burch or Rebecca Minkoff.

Department stores need to get back to what they do best: merchandising. The label inside one of my first big-boy suits (Ok, all of my suits have been big-boy suits) read, “Hickey Freeman Exclusively for I.Magnin.”

It’s the merchandise mix that sets them apart.

They should be working with their best vendors to develop unique offerings, or elevate their house brands to compete. It’s a delicate balance, but it can be done.

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