It is probably a generational thing but often when you think department stores you are drawn to a particular name and the town or city that links it.

It is probably a generational thing but often when you think department stores you are drawn to a particular name and the town or city that links it.

So many have either gone or been rebranded, but remain in the memory as Rackhams of Birmingham, Owen Owen of Liverpool, Eaden Lilley of Cambridge and so on.

They were the anchors of any major town and, as many will no doubt remember from their childhoods, when you went “shopping”, the visit to the local department store was a major event.

Consolidation and a changing industry swept many of these old names away, but it has seemed for a few years now that things had stabilised. So it was sad to see that Allders “of Croydon” had gone into administration. The last store standing in what had been an important group in the South-east, it plays a key part in the local identity as was clearly reflected by the efforts to stave off its collapse.

It also underlines the fact that any department store – whether part of a group or a one-off – requires massive, constant investment to keep it modern, enticing and competitive.

Before Selfridges became the global leader that it is in the department store league, many may recall the years of investment programmes and refurbishments that were lavished on it by first Sears and then the Westons. The John Lewis Partnership continues to play the long game with refurbishment and upgrade programmes.

The other challenge is to find ways of retaining those local links to make shoppers feel that their department store is important to them. US monolith Macy’s realised in 2008 that it had taken centralisation too far and instituted the “My Macy’s” strategy to localise buying, marketing and decision-making.

Despite the problems faced by Allders, it is at least good to note that it hasn’t led to any headlines about department stores being the “dinosaurs of retailing” as would have been the case 10 or 15 years ago.

At a time when retailing desperately needs more theatre and reasons to visit bricks and mortar, department stores still have an important role to play.

  • Ian McGarrigle, Director, World Retail Congress