The narrative is a familiar one: the scourge of online sales, encroaching ominously on brick-and-mortar market share, continues to siphon sales and transform the retail industry into an increasingly virtual landscape. Over the last few years, nearly every retail sales drop or unexpectedly poor performance has been laid at the feet of the Internet.

As ringing cash registers give way to wringing hands, retailers and analysts who should know better have pointed to online retail sales as a kind of catch-all bogeyman: a convenient cause for the struggles of a brand, a sector, or even an industry. Online retailing is perhaps cited most frequently as one of the biggest reasons why the department store sector appears to be in a steady, and perhaps even terminal decline.

The truth, however, is very different.

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