Last week, my wife asked me to go shopping with her at Belk — she needed new shirts for an upcoming vacation (or so she says). I indulged her as it was one of those lazy weekend afternoons.

Yet, this blog isn’t about why we went to Belk. Rather, it’s a focus on the sheer lack of distinction the store presented to us while we were there.

At the end of the day, are any of these department stores different than the rest?

At this point in my life, I try to avoid these stores like the plague. Stepping into one is an immediate sensory overload for me, which is in direct correlation to their lack of distinction. Walk into any Belk, JC Penney or Macy’s and you’ll find racks of clothes pressed so tightly together that it is nearly impossible to walk through without knocking any to the ground. In each, brands upon brands are amassed in a hodgepodge of style, type, quality and preference. Quite simply, I need detox upon leaving.

This time was no different. As I gazed around the colorful confusion, I wondered how any company in the category could possibly build preference and brand loyalty when the motto seems to be: “He who offers the most, wins!”

The thing is, Belk doesn’t offer anything different than other department stores. There isn’t any difference in my shopping experience from store to store and that leaves me, and no doubt other customers, dissatisfied and hesitant to come back. Even my wife — a sucker for shopping — couldn’t stand how unorganized and cluttered the store seemed and only stayed because of the 40-50% off signs, a sad truth. Wouldn’t it be nice if quality ruled over quantity and stores were experts in making themselves different and better than the competition?

Ultimately, department stores have confused their purpose. As they have done so, they continuously act in desperation to gain customers (whether through poor advertising, reckless branding schemes, or errant shelving tactics). Sadly, desperate measures never find success and, until the department stores of the world take the time to find their branding purpose, they will never be able to steal share.