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Department stores can turn things around – here's how, VC says

  • Department stores have to rethink their businesses and look at opportunities to buy innovation, David Strasser told CNBC.
  • "There's a lot of energy out there in e-commerce startups and a lot they can bring to these bigger companies," he said.
  • However, retail analyst Liz Dunn doesn't think that will make them more profitable.

Department stores are "trading as if they're going to die" but there is an opportunity for them to save themselves, venture capitalist David Strasser told CNBC on Thursday.

"The one thing good about department stores is they have a lot of cash," the managing director at Swan & Legend Venture Partners said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

"They have to really rethink their businesses entirely. Look at what's out there and the opportunities to really buy innovation and buy customer relationships."

Retail stocks fell sharply on Thursday after Macy's reported earnings, revenue, and same-store sales that all missed estimates. The SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) shed 2.7 percent, while Macy's shares plunged 17 percent.

Strasser's firm invests in those specialty e-commerce companies he thinks would be good acquisitions for department stores, like framing business Framebridge or CustomInk, a custom t-shirt company.

"There's a lot of energy out there and a lot they can bring to these bigger companies," he said.

However, retail analyst Liz Dunn believes that will be challenging for department stores, whose "business is clearly broken."

"It works in terms of the survival of the company but it's not going to make for a more profitable model," the founder and CEO of Pro4ma told "Closing Bell."

"It's going to be less profitable. It's going to generate less returns. That's what we're looking at with department stores. They are going to generate a smaller return on invested capital and thinner margins. And I think that's just the reality that we have to look forward to if they're to survive."

Meanwhile, what's happening with department stores isn't necessarily reflective of problems in the consumer space, said Stephanie Link, equity portfolio manager at TIAA Investments.

"This is a secular problem for the department stores. And the one thing that you can't do is extrapolate what's happening at the department stores as meaning a whole bad consumer. There's a lot good going on with consumers," she told "Closing Bell."

That includes more job creation, wages that are heading in the right direction and an increased spending on homes, Link noted.

Oliver Pursche, CEO of Bruderman Brothers, agrees. He is bullish on consumer discretionary, like Amazon, Home Depot and Diageo. However, he doesn't like apparel.

"Retail, the whole landscape and business model, has changed and so the old world leaders such as Macy's, we just dislike that business model and don't see how they're going to win in a new landscape," he said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

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