A department store organizes its goods by departments, such as women's clothes, home furnishings, electronics, and the like.
Department stores range from collections of elaborate, fancy shops to practical outlets for ordinary merchandise. They differ from ordinary stores principally because of their size and range of merchandise.
In the United States, there are a number of classes of department store. Discount stores, such as Kmart, Wal-Mart or Target were sometimes called junior department stores in contrast with more full-fledged stores like Sears or Macy's. This distinction doesn't exist to the same extent outside of the USA where Department Store tends to mean the latter fully-fledged variety.
Most department stores that are internationally famous, are not single location shops, such as Harrods, and operate as chain stores, such as Sogo, Macy's and Harvey Nichols.
Though the Hudson's Bay Company of Canada (which began operations in 1670) was the first store with departments, it is not clear when it could be classified as a department store. In Paris in 1838 Aristide Boucicaut started the emporium that developed into Bon Marché by 1852, the first department store that offered a wide variety of goods in "departments" all under under one roof. Goods were sold at a fixed price, with guarantees allowing exchanges and refunds.
In New York City in 1846, Irish-born entrepreneur A.T. Stewart established the prototype of the US department store on the east side of Broadway, between Chambers and Reade Streets. He offered European retail merchandise at set prices on a variety of dry goods, and advertised a policy of providing "free entrance" to all potential customers. Though it was clad in white marble to look like a Renaissance palazzo, the building's cast iron construction permitted large plate glass windows. In 1862 Stewart built a true department store on a full city block at Broadway and 9th Street, opposite Grace Church, with eight floors and 19 departments of dress goods and furnishing materials, carpets, glass and china, toys and sports equipment, ranged around a central glass-covered court. Within a couple of decades, New York's retail center had shifted uptown, forming a stretch of retail shopping from A.T. Stewart's as far as 23rd Street, on Broadway and Sixth Avenue, a stretch that was called the "Ladies' Mile." Macy's, founded as a dry goods store by Rowland Hussey Macy in 1858, Benjamin Altman and Lord & Taylor soon competed with Stewart as New York's first department stores, later followed by McCreary's and, in Brooklyn, Abraham & Strauss . Many of the grand buildings of the 1880s and 90s remain, now put to other uses.
Similar developments were under way in London (with Liberty And Company ) and in Paris (with La Samaritaine) and in Chicago, where department stores sprang up along Michigan Avenue, notably Marshall Field and Company. In 1877, Wanamaker's opened in Philadelphia. Philadelphia's John Wanamaker performed a 19th century redevelopment to the former Pennsylvania Railroad terminal in that city, and eventually opened a modern day department store in the building.
In the beginning, some department stores leased space to individual merchants, along the lines of the New change in late 17th-century London, but by 1900 the smaller companies were purchased or replaced by the larger company. In some ways they were very similar to our modern malls, where the property owner has no direct interest in the 'departments' or 'stores,' other than to collect rent and provide utilities. Today only the most specialized departments are leased out. This could include photography and photo finishing, automotive services, or financial services. But this is rare. Even the store restaurant is usually run by the department store now.
Virtually since the beginning department stores featured food courts, entertainments, specialty and seasonal kiosks. These were joined together in spectacular buildings with central atriums, with the departments arrayed around this center. The owners of the larger building usually advertised his department store as a bastion of convenience and ease, but left individual departments free to advertise themselves.
Department Stores worldwide
In 1906, Harry Gordon Selfridge a junior partner in Marshall Field's, left America to set up a department store, Selfridges in London. After it opened in 1909 it stimulated wide-ranging changes to British retail practice.
The term "department store" is used somewhat more narrowly in the UK than in the US, generally only being applied to stores with a very wide range of departments situated in city and town centre or indoor shopping centre locations. Examples would include Debenhams, John Lewis and House of Fraser .
The term "department store" is not generally used for chains such as Marks & Spencer with only a few departments; these are termed "retail multiples". Warehouse-style general merchandise stores on the Wal-Mart model are few in the UK, and they are not thought of as department stores.