If you thought malls and department stores all looked the same before, wait a few months. Today, Federated Department Stores (NYSE:FD) and May Department Stores (NYSE:MAY) announced a multibillion-dollar merger that will create one of retail's largest empires. (By the way, folks. Worst press-release title ever.) Soon, many of America's most famous names in retail, including Marshall Fields, Macy's, Lord and Taylor, and Bloomingdales will join under a single umbrella, at least after Federated pays May's shareholders $35.50 per stub in cash and stock.

If you're just tuning into the whole story, you might be wondering why May's shares are down a stitch today. Where's the merger pop? Well, it already happened. The upcoming buyout was one of the worst-kept secrets on Wall Street, with the result that the price was reached a while back. See whether you can guess when the news leaked.

Will this merger really "create value," as the Federated verbsters claim in that press release? I have my doubts. True, it might be nice to run the two together and actually claim the $450 million cost savings because of those fabulous, always popular, post-merger "synergies," but whether or not that happens is anyone's guess.

No, Federated's move smells a little desperate to me.

I'd say that five years of stagnating sales and hit-or-miss profitability are proof enough that the firm was already too big for its own good. Revenues at May haven't exactly been steaming ahead either, despite a retail climate that's been very good to a variety of specialty stores such as American Eagle Outfitters (NASDAQ:AEOS), Coach (NYSE:COH), and Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS). My suspicion is that traditional department stores have a limited future. The high-end sales will go to the specialty stores, and the low-end will all end up at Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT).

And speaking of Sam's empire, all the bogus headlines circulating on the news wires about Federated's increased ability to compete with the Bentonville bruisers? Forget those too. Wal-Mart's success has been built on the fact that it's not a typical department store. And even if we were comparing identical retail environments, size wouldn't help fogies like Federated. None of them managed to swat Wal-Mart down when it was a mere gnat. What are their chances now that the upstart is much larger and much more efficient?

There's value in retail, but I don't see much of it in these two firms. Fools who like smaller companies will be better off looking at the niche players and those who prefer big money can find proven, steady growers.

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Seth Jayson always bets on the spunky little guy or the 900-pound gorilla -- never the flabby middleweight. At the time of publication, he had shares of Chico's but no position in any other firm mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.