Sarah Halzack is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She was previously a national retail reporter for the Washington Post.

The Black Friday shopping bonanza, the retail industry's version of the Super Bowl, is practically upon us. Thanks to the flurry of retail earnings reports that have dropped in recent weeks, we have a good sense of which companies are heading into the holiday season with momentum -- and which ones could use a Christmas miracle.

No category of retail seems to be feeling pain quite as much as department stores. Macy's Inc. saw its comparable sales sink 4 percent from a year earlier. JC Penney Co. Inc. took a loss as it moved to unload apparel inventory that just wasn't selling. Kohl's Corp. said it struggled to sell clothes amid unseasonably warm weather. It all reflected a trend that has been clear for some time now: Department stores are in decline. 

But the struggle at these storied chains is somewhat misunderstood. The conventional wisdom is that Inc. and other e-commerce businesses have been hammering them into irrelevance. But, in fact, department stores' problems are much wider-ranging and harder to solve. 

The video below tells the story. 

The Death of the Department Store

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Sarah Halzack in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mark Gongloff at