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Department stores urged to expand horizons


New York City Top retail executives at a conference Thursday said departments stores must offer shoppers more reasons to stop in, and need to expand their presence online and in new kinds of locations, such as airports, the Associated Press reported.

"We have to be nimble without being as certain," said Roger Farah, president and COO at Polo Ralph Lauren Co., during a presentation to more than 300 executives on the first day of a two-day department store summit organized by Saks and the Intercontinental Group of Department Stores.

Department stores and their clothing suppliers were among the companies hit hardest as the financial crisis escalated in late 2008. And consumers' discretionary spending has not returned to pre-recession levels.

"The recovery is fragile," said Steve Sadove, chairman and CEO of Saks.

According to Farah, many department stores used to focus too much on merchandise with high profit margins and not enough on what customers wanted.

"We all need to develop frequency of need," Farah said. Opening at locations like airports also would increase foot traffic, he added.

Wendy Liebmann, CEO of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, said her research has shown that more than half of shoppers believe the downturn will last at least another year, maybe two, and 17% of shoppers surveyed said they expect it to last another three to five years.

“The emerging retail world may look familiar, but it is not,” Liebmann said. “New technologies mean that familiar department store territory is being transformed: Service, exclusivity, access have all been redefined. The change is real and not going away any time soon. Department stores will be enormously challenged in this new environment. They must invent, yes invent, themselves if they are to succeed.”


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