This is a little off-topic, but I think I’m starting to be nostalgic about department stores. Shopping malls too.

Over the last twelve months or so we’ve seen a rapid cultural shift taking place. People aren’t buying things in shops any more. Department stores are in big trouble. Fashion stores are in big trouble. Gerry Harvey never stops moaning about the need to do something.

A few things are happening all at once, as I’ve already mentioned in a previous post – since the GFC hit us, we’re no longer spending like drunken sailors, or at least not with quite the same enthusiasm as previously; this is partly because we’re buying less stuff, and partly because what we are buying is secondhand, or from overseas. I don’t have any figures on this, so I don’t know how much of it is real and how much of it is just local retailers moaning. But when even my parents can overcome their belief that the internet was invented by sinister Nigerians for the sole purpose of stealing their money without providing any goods in return, and not only PURCHASE THINGS ONLINE, but start actively proselytizing about the bargains you can find, then something is definitely afoot.

Which is why I’m feeling nostalgic for department stores. Malls too. I know I am a tragic white girl, but whenever I’m travelling, and feeling a bit lost or tired or put-upon, nice stores and nice malls always make me feel better. They’re calm and ordered and tranquil, and there are beautiful things carefully arranged to look as lovely and appealing as possible. No-one chases you about or hassles you. The prices for things are written on the tags. There is no chaos. They usually have pleasant toilets – always important when you are far from home. What I like about department stores is they feel like they are places arranged for me: an ordinary girl with modest means who likes nice things. I like there to be at least a possibility that if I saw something I liked in the store, I might be able to afford to buy it. I am not a fashionista, and I don’t do designer. I’m happy on the high street. (I also love high streets.) I love the artistry of store displays: not so much the windows, although that helps, but the way the items are grouped on the racks, on the displays, on the models, so that they add up to a whole pleasing story. I’ve never been one of those assiduous fashion-hunters who can emerge victorious from an op-shop with hidden treasure. (I usually emerge empty-handed, or clutching a lurex cocktail dress.) Websites are beginning to move into that territory once occupied exclusively by the magazines and the stores themselves, parcelling up their offerings into exciting and enticing new stories.

But you can’t feel the fabrics online. You can’t check the fit. When I walk into a change room, about 80% of the things I’ve selected, which looked awesome on the rack, look horrible on me. And I know you can always return them. But – but –

But I suddenly feel like department stores might be the drive-in movie theatres of the future. When you walk into a department store, what do you usually see on the ground floor? Perfume, make-up, and maybe handbags. They’re thronged with staff, and full of stuff that never seems to go on sale. They used to be the sales engine for everything else, hence the prominent position in the most expensive real estate in the store. But ask yourself this: next time you need a new bottle of Tresor, are you going to go and buy it at full whack from David Jones? Or are you going to order it from a cut-price perfume store online and get it delivered?

Thought so.

Which is why I can’t help feeling all those big beautiful stores may be hovering on the edge of being ghost businesses: still full of people, but how many of those people are just window-shopping? Checking out the physical object before they go and order it online? And how much longer can that be viable?

So vale David Jones. I’ll miss you.