Global Industry Overview: Retail Department Stores, Variety Stores and General Merchandise Stores

Department stores carry a diverse line of nonfood merchandise, including general wearing apparel (suits, coats, and dresses), home furnishings (furniture, floor coverings, curtains, draperies, linens, and major household appliances), and housewares (table and kitchen appliances, dishes, and utensils). Many department stores offer their own credit lines and various supplemental services as well. Variety stores carry a diverse line of goods in the low-price range. General merchandise stores carry goods similar to department stores, but normally have fewer than 50 employees. For discussion of food retailing, see Grocery Stores.

Industry Snapshot

The retail industry, the second largest industry in the United States in terms of number of establishments and number of employees, enjoyed unprecedented gains in the late 1990s and through 2000. In part, this was due to strong consumer confidence, low interest rates, and high employment levels. Between 1994 and 2000, the retail industry grew rapidly. By late 2000, however, as the United States and much of Europe and Asia were experiencing recession, and retailers began to feel the effects of the sluggish global economy, a slowdown in manufacturing, high consumer debt, and job layoffs. The unstable economic environment following the 2001 terrorist attacks, coupled with the rise of Wal-Mart and other discount retailers, pushed many retailers over the financial edge.