Why department stores are in structural decline (except, apparently, Belk)

Hit from below by discounters that offer value, from above by specialty retailers with deft merchandising and, most recently, sideways by e-commerce players that offer a mix, the U.S. department store sector has lost share nine of the last 10 years. In fact, department store's share of retail has been halved in the last 10 years.  

In 2008 there were 138 independent department stores. By 2009 there were 57, and the death rattle from icons JCP and Sears is audible. Department store growth in Europe is also subdued, forecast at 1.3 percent a year through 2015. In sum, the format is under attack.

At the same time, Charlotte's homegrown retail giant, Belk, seems to be defying this trend. As the nation's largest privately owned department store chain, Belk operates about 300 stores in some 15 states, and its net income last year increased 43.5 percent from $127.6 million to $183.1 million compared to the prior year. Plus belk.com contributed $72 million in sales last year, a 108 percent increase over the prior year, and online sales continue to grow at a rapid pace. Our Charlotte marketing agency has never  had the chance to share our retail marketing expertise with Belk, but it sounds like they are doing just fine.

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