Many are blaming cold weather for the latest disappointing retail sales report, which showed a decline of 0.4 percent in sales in January, well over consensus expectations of a 0.1 percent drop, according to Bloomberg.
But while the recent polar vortex may have temporarily pushed spending downward, some trends have held true, rain or shine. One of those is the recent decline of department store sales.
According to government figures, department store sales have been on the decline since the early 2000s. Census figures show sales hit their peak in January 2001, when seasonally adjusted department store sales totaled more than $19.9 billion. Last month, they totaled less than $14.2 billion.
And the above-depicted data don’t even take inflation into account. Comparing January 2014 department store sales to past Januaries indicates an even steeper decline: adjusted to 2013 dollars, department stores sold nearly $26.7 billion in January 1999, the highest January on record, compared to today’s $14.2 billion (in 2014 dollars).
And those trends have been going on for more than a year. Whatever role nonstore retailers are playing in the decline of department store sales, looking at the two together shows just how dramatic the downward trend in department store sales is compared to a segment with which those stores often compete.
“I think the growth in specialty stores has partially contributed to the decline,” says Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, in an email to U.S. News.
She also says online shopping may not have stolen buyers away from department stores.
“I think the Internet has actually helped build brand recognition for department stores. Companies like Macy’s and J.C. Penney have done a great job providing a seamless experience for all their shoppers, regardless of channel,” Grannis says.