Thanks for Visiting!

Register for free to get the full story.

Sign Up
Already have a Placer.ai account? Log In

Department Stores 2021 Recap: High-End Thriving, Mid-Range Recovering

by 
Shira Petrack
 on 
February 17, 2022
Department Stores 2021 Recap: High-End Thriving, Mid-Range Recovering

Like the malls they anchor, department stores were being eulogized long before the COVID pandemic hit American retail. But whereas many malls bounced back already in the summer of 2021, many department store brands continued to struggle to return to pre-pandemic foot traffic levels. Now, with two years of pandemic life behind us, we dove into foot traffic to leading high-end and mid-range department store chains to understand how the “new normal” looks for this critical retail sector.

High-End Department Stores Leading the Pack 

Visits to luxury stores have been strong in recent months, and the demand for quality goods is boosting visits to Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale’s. 

Saks Fifth Avenue, whose store fleet has stayed relatively consistent throughout the pandemic, has also seen the largest increase in foot traffic over the past seven months, with January visits up 14.8% compared to January 2020. Nordstrom, which permanently closed over 10% of its full-line stores due to the impact of COVID, has seen Yo2Y growth in its visits-per-venue metrics every month since July ‘21, ending the year strong with a 2.9% Yo2Y growth in December visits-per-venue.

Neiman Marcus, which entered bankruptcy in May 2020 – from which it emerged in September of the same year – has also closed several locations, and re-focussed its strategy on catering to Neiman’s luxury-oriented core customer base. The result is an impressive jump in its visit-per-venue numbers, with holiday season Yo2Y visits-per-venue numbers of 12.4% and 18.1% for November and December, respectively.

Bloomingdale’s did see a slight drop in visits-per-venue compared to its overall visit numbers, likely due to its slight store fleet expansion through a new store the retailer opened just before the pandemic hit and the new Bloomie’s, small-format concept opened in August. But its overall visit numbers have been strong, with overall Yo2Y holiday visits up 3.5% and 3.0% in November and December, respectively.

Given their recent visit performance, luxury department stores are well positioned to thrive in 2022.

Right-Sizing Easing Recovery for Mid-Range Brands 

The visit recovery has been slightly more challenging for mid-range department store chains. Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney, and Dillard’s have all seen their 2021 monthly visits continue to lag behind 2019 foot traffic levels, although the retailers who consolidated their store fleet have managed to soften the blow. 

In February 2020, before the COVID outbreak hit American retail, Macy’s announced its plans to close 125 stores over the following three years. So far, the strategy seems to be working, and the company’s visits-per-venue numbers are significantly stronger than its Yo2Y overall foot traffic metrics. The company is planning on implementing the remaining 60 planned closures in 2022, so expect its visits-per-venue numbers to climb even further as Macy’s continues to optimize its fleet. This optimization trend is especially noteworthy as it indicates that Macy’s rightsizing strategy is enabling the brand to better maximize the reach of each location.

Kohl’s is one of the few department store chains that has not closed a significant number of stores in recent years, and so its visits per venue trend track its overall Yo2Y visit numbers pretty closely. But the company has announced plans to expand its collaboration with Sephora, and as Kohl’s locations with Sephora shops-in-shop are consistently outperforming those without, adding Sephora shops to more Kohl’s locations may well drive up foot traffic numbers across the chain. 

Like Neiman Marcus, JCPenney entered bankruptcy in May 2020, and the company exited bankruptcy in December 2020 with significantly fewer stores and plans to permanently close around a third of the stores it operated pre-pandemic. Now, foot traffic data from the past seven months shows that the brand is close to optimizing its store fleet: December visits-per-venue were down just 5.5% Yo2Y.

Dillard’s has also permanently closed several stores – turning some of the shuttered locations into Dillard’s Clearance Centers – so its Yo2Y visits-per-venue metrics are stronger than its overall Yo2Y visit numbers, with December visits-per-venue down just 1.5% compared to December 2019. And since Dillard’s is the only mid-range department store analyzed that actually saw Yo2Y growth in overall monthly visits in 2021, with July and October Yo2Y visits up 2.4% and 2.9%, respectively, there is ample reason for optimism going into 2022.

While a COVID defined January did no brand in the sector any favors, the latest data does show that the picture for mid-range department stores is far rosier than it might have seemed.

Brick and Mortar Apparel Visits Recovering Slowly 

Before writing off department store brands that are slower to recover, some context is critical. The pandemic hit overall apparel visits hard, and recovery for the sector has been slow. 

Comparing nationwide monthly apparel visits in 2021 to nationwide apparel visits two years prior shows how closely the apparel recovery is correlated to the COVID situation. Apparel visits finally reached Yo2Y growth in July – but then the Delta wave and apparel visits came crashing down again in late August and September. Visits recovered in October, but the declining importance of Black Friday hurt November foot traffic while the Omicron surge kept visits low in December and January. 

The silver lining from the data is that apparel visits do seem to recover every time the COVID situation stabilizes. This means that there is serious potential for a full apparel recovery once this pandemic subsides – which means that the department store brands that are currently struggling may still make a comeback in 2022.

Want to stay up to date on the performance of leading retailers? 

Visit placer.ai/blog.

Get 3 brand & industry
breakdowns every week

Subscribe to the newsletter

Great! Prepare your inbox for data-driven insights...
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get a Demo

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please provide a valid email
Please enter your email
Please enter company name

Thanks for reaching out!

One of our experts will be in touch soon

Try Placer.ai Free
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
The Promise of Luxury Apparel
Catching Up With Ulta Beauty & Gap Brands
Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Five Below: Q1 2024 Treasure Troves
CAVA Still Going Strong
Driving Success: Auto Parts Chains in 2024
Checking in With DICK’S Sporting Goods
Mother’s Day Shopping and Dining Trends
Placer.ai Mall Index: April 2024 Recap – Retail Resilience Heading into Spring
Dollar Stores Still Gaining Momentum
Off-Price Apparel Chains After Q1 2024: Demographics in the Balance
Walmart, Target, and Wholesale Clubs Continue to Thrive
Home Improvement and Decor Check In
Placer.ai Office Index: April 2024 Recap – Recovery Continues
Movie Theaters in Q1 2024: A Preview of Coming Attractions?
Let’s Get Physical: Fitness In 2024
Where Are Workers Returning to Office in 2024?
2024 Wins: Sweetgreen & First Watch on the Rise
A Full-Service Turnaround: Bloomin’, Dine, and Texas Roadhouse
Wendy’s and Denny’s: Breakfast and Late Night Dining Drives Success
Coffee Chains: Q1 2024 Update and What’s Changed Since COVID
Checking in with RBI and YUM!
Chipotle & McDonald's Serving Up Success
Wingstop & Shake Shack Continue Growing Their Reach 
Strong Start for Sprouts in 2024
Crocs’ Footwear Fairytale
Who Attends NCAA Final Four Events?
Eclipse Fever: How Did the (Retail and Hospitality) Stars Align?
Exploring Albertsons Companies’ Grocery Growth
Placer.ai Mall Index: March 2024 Recap – Malls Rise Again
Placer.ai Office Index: March 2024 Recap
Florida Spring Break Break-Up? Travelers Still Love Florida!
Provo-Orem and Ogden-Clearfield Emerging As Utah Hotspots 
Three Formulas for Experiential Retail in 2024
Aldi & Lidl Making The Cut
Texas Suburbs on the Rise
Exploring Luxury Hotel Brands’ Guest Segmentation
The St. Patrick’s Day Effect
How Can JOANN Make a Comeback?
Panera Bread Well Positioned for Possible IPO
Who Will Benefit From Family Dollar’s Downsizing?
Dave & Buster’s and Main Event Entertainment: Food and Fun for Everyone
Darden Brands: Location Analytics and Consumer Behavior
Nike and lululemon: a Strong 2023, Sprinting into 2024
Where Is Retail and Dining Foot Traffic Thriving in Early 2024?
Placer.ai White Paper Recap – February 2024
Three Retail & Dining Chains That May Surprise in 2024
Specialty Discount Chains Rock Retail Therapy
Placer.ai Mall Index: February 2024
Placer.ai Office Index: February 2024 Recap
Ulta Beauty Continues To Shine
First Watch Sails Into 2024
Hibbett Sports and DICK’S Sporting Goods: A Psychographic Analysis
Checking in With Discount & Dollar Stores
Peeking Behind The Curtain: Movie Theaters in 2023 and Beyond
Diving Into Brick-and-Mortar Eyewear
Getting Into Gear: Exploring The Auto Part Industry
Recapping Valentine’s Day 2024 Foot Traffic Trends
Fitness: A Strong Start to 2024
Dutch Bros. Continues To Percolate Visits
Super Bowl 2024: Placer.ai’s Postgame Foot Traffic Analysis
CAVA & sweetgreen Are On the Rise
Hats Off For Off-Price
Who Is Shopping at Malls?
Drilling Down Into Home Improvement
Walmart, Target, Costco & Superstore Space 2023 Recap
Catching Up With Shake Shack and Wingstop
Something To Chew On: Demographic Shifts at Steakhouse Chains
Placer.ai Office Index: Looking Back at 2023
Recapping RBI & Yum! Brands’ 2023 Foot Traffic Performance
Placer.ai White Paper Recap – January 2024
Who Shops at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters?
Three Taco Chains to Watch in 2024
Starbucks and Dunkin’: 2023 in Four Data Points
Who Visits CVS and Walgreens?
Fashionably Frugal: Apparel in 2023
Catching Up With Fast Food
The Grocery Sector in 2023: An End-of-Year Recap
3 Mall & Shopping Center Trends for 2024
Bakery Chains Rising To The Top
Placer.ai and Esri Partner to Deliver Geospatial Analytics
Tampa Tourism Trends
Going For The Green: The Changing Dynamics Of Country Clubs
Christmas Day Dining Recap
Major Urban Shopping Districts – Holiday Season Recap
Placer.ai Office Index: December 2023 Recap
Recapping the 2023 Holiday Shopping Season
Placer.ai White Paper Recap – December 2023
7 Retail & Dining Segments to Watch in 2024
Diving Into Holiday Season Favorites
Super Saturday and Christmas Eve Eve: A Winning Combination
3 Budget Grocery Chains Finishing 2023 On a High Note
Making It In America: International Chicken Chains Bring The Heat
Domestic Tourism at a Glance: A Q3 2023 Roundup
Five Pizza Chains On The Rise
Jewelry Brands Taking Advantage of the DTC Opportunity
Secondhand News: Kids' Thrift Shops
Recapping 2023’s Dining M&As
MetLife Stadium Kicks Off Football Season
Placer.ai Office Index: November 2023 Recap
Small Coffee Chains Brewing Big Success