I've combined these two "off-price department stores" because they are owned by the same corporation. The company originally evolved from the Zayre discount department stores, founded in 1956. Zayre opened the first TJ Maxx in 1976, but it later sold off the Zayre name. Its expansion beyond North America came in 1994, when T.K. Maxx was founded in the United Kingdom and then expanded to Ireland (and later, Germany and Poland). In 1995, it acquired Marshalls.
One thing that confounds me is that the T.K. Maxx stores in the UK seem to include a portion of the store devoted to high-end designer garments. I did not find this at the suburban TJ Maxx I visited this past Tuesday afternoon after a couple of meetings on campus. The store was cool, and clean and bright. Shoppers were dressed in casual summer attire as they perused the merchandise. The handbags were of slightly better quality than any of the stores I've visited previously. There was a jewelry counter under glass. I perused the shoes on open display and the racks of hats, lingerie, and active wear. I think I began with women's sizes and I was impressed that there were "cute" finds there. In the misses racks, I found a black dress with a leather panel that I admired. And in the junior's department, I found a top of grey lace that I truly wanted...but honestly could not imagine where it might fit in my wardrobe. Lisa at Privilege had great luck finding a dress and shoes on the spur of the moment in a TJ Maxx several months ago.
All of the women's clothing was arranged in the center of the store, surrounded by men's, children's, and housewares departments. I don't believe I found any garment that was over $50, though there were a number of known labels, such as Ralph Lauren. I left without buying anything. Shopping is exhausting on a hot summer's afternoon, although if you were a person attempting to keep air conditioning costs low, I can imagine an afternoon of browsing the racks.
I drove to a different suburban strip mall to sample the wares at Marshalls. This was a favorite shopping place of mine in the 1970s before it became a part of the TJX Companies. One never knew what they might find on the racks--similar to the way I find thrift store shopping now. One practice that was unique to Marshalls in its early days was that floor space was "sublet" in the shoes, hardware, and sporting goods departments, although the separate ownership of the space was "invisible" to the shopper. I do not know if that is still the case today. By buying up post-season, over-run, and close-out stock in the 70s, Marshalls was able to offer prices at 20-60% off department store prices. A recession was affecting shoppers in that decade. Marshalls is now the second largest off-price family apparel and home fashion retailer, behind its sister company, TJ Maxx.
When I visited, I was surprised to find much of the same merchandise at BOTH stores. I saw the same luggage, although the shoe department, scarves, and hats were a bit more extensive. I found a pair of bright red Spanx! I found dresses very similar to mother-of-the-bride dress I wore last September. There was more sportswear and maxi dresses in this store, but this might have reflected the suburban upscale neighborhood where the store was located. I wandered snapping photos for nearly half an hour. The only discernible difference was that this Marshall's carried NO jewelry. The one clerk I approached was clad in shorts and sandals.
In both stores, shopping carts are made available to shoppers as they have been in every store I've visited since the Window Shopping Project began. I have two more stores to visit, Steinmart and Nordstrom's Rack, before I launch into the part of the project that may make me feel more uncomfortable. I've been reading and hearing about the consumer practice of "showrooming" and although I'm not doing this, I worry that I may be confronted about my photography as I shop the higher end stores.
Amy Zimmerman of the Wall Street Journal describes showrooming this way, "when shoppers come into a store to see a product in person, only to buy it from a rival online, frequently at a lower price." I first heard about this with QR codes last Christmas in bookstores and rued the practice as I knew it might mean the end of brick and mortar bookstores. But, it also places a lot of power in consumers' hands. Do you showroom?