Supermarkets and department stores are in decline. How would you determine which factors are the most important causes for the decline?

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It would not be easy to determine this, but we could do some things to try to isolate reasons.  Our tests would depend on what we think is causing the decline.

First, we could take polls.  We could ask people if they spend more of their retail dollars at these kinds of stores, whether they spend less, or whether their spending has stayed the same.  If they spend less, we could ask them questions designed to determine what factors have caused them to take their business elsewhere.

Second, we could look at the characteristics of the kinds of stores that are taking business away from the kinds of stores you are asking about.  We could look to see, for example, if Walmart-type stores are growing.  We could look to see if more specialized shops are growing. When we find types of stores that are growing, we should compared them to the department stores and supermarkets to try to see what characteristics they have that the department stores and supermarkets lack.

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Supermarkets and full-service dept stores (like Macy's) are in decline. What factors might these stores have in common behind their decline?

The most likely factor that these have in common is that they try to be many different things in a time when specialization is becoming more and more the norm in American retail.  

Thanks to the internet and the specialized stores that it makes possible, more generalized stores are having a hard time remaining in business.  They do not specialize in any one thing and so they tend to be a little more mediocre in many things.  This is the classic idea of being a "jack of all trades and master of none."

Another possible factor is higher costs.  Supermarkets and full-service department stores both try to have better customer service and higher quality goods than discount stores.  But these stores then get caught between the high end speciality stores and the discounters.  They are an in between sort of store that does not fit in either niche and loses customers to both.

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