Online sales surge while in-stores sales drop to start the holidays

December 1, 2015, 4:03 PM

BY SANDRA GUY, Senior Editor

The future may hold far fewer and radically redesigned stores, analysts say.

Online retailers’ holiday sales increased 15%-16% thanks to strong showings on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but in-store sales for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend declined 4.7%-10%, according to analytics reports out Tuesday.

Cyber Monday—the Monday after Thanksgiving-set a record as the largest online sales day ever, with $3.07 billion spent by end of the day, or 16% more than the $2.64 billion spent in 2014, according to Adobe Inc.’s Adobe Digital Index. Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday drove $11 billion in online sales, a 15% increase year over year and 30% of all online sales in November ($39.5 billion), the Adobe data show.

Moving into December the month’s first 18 days in December each are expected to generate $1 billion in online sales, Adobe says. Adobe measures 80% of all online transactions from the top 100 U.S. retailers.

In-store sales declined. RetailNext, which primarily compiles data about bricks-and-mortar stores, shows declines of 4.7% for the Thanksgiving weekend, while ShopperTrak, which monitors traffic to stores and malls, reported 10% declines during the holiday weekend.

Physical stores are far from dead, but as online sales take a bigger percentage of retailers’ overall sales, analysts expect fewer stores—and those will operate differently from how they have in the past, especially during the holidays.

Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research, says no tipping point will occur until Black Friday no longer creates a shopping frenzy. When Black Friday fails to generate increased sales in stores, retailers will rethink paying overtime to employees and incurring extra utility and other expenses to open early, she says. “I’m fairly certain for no apparent reason that Target won’t open on Thanksgiving Day next year.”

Rosenblum says she believes the United States has had too many stores for more than 20 years, and chains already are opening smaller sites staffed with more highly trained workers.

Anne Marie Stephen, founder of Smart Women In Retail Leadership and CEO and founder of KWOLIA, a strategic advisory firm for retail and emerging retail technologies, says she agrees with a forecast in a recent CNBC series on the future of retail that 30% of the 1,000 shopping malls in the United States may shutter in the next 25 years “Online commerce will be a strong influence on this decreasing retail footprint,” she says. “Other trends we see today will also contribute, such as on-demand delivery services like Amazon Prime, Google Express and Uber that deliver goods within one hour. These e-retailers will have centralized warehouses that will use drones and autonomous cars to exclusively meet the needs of on-demand delivery.

 Consumers will become more comfortable renting apparel or other goods,  she says. “You will be able to shop a virtual mall that appears in your living room via your entertainment and gaming systems. Store locations will continue to exist but they will become more experiential showrooms featuring products and services that connect consumers to the brand through touch, feel and community.” 

Colin Sebastian, senior research analyst at investment firm Robert W. Baird & Co., says he won’t call a tipping point for retail until online sales growth soars significantly from one year to the next, say, to a 30% jump, because e-commerce holiday sales have been increasing at a 15% rate for several years now.

And there’s a difference between the results of large e-retailers and smaller merchants.  Adobe’s research shows large retailers, those with average sales revenue of $25 million, grew sales 12% on Cyber Monday, while online sales for small retailers or those with average sales revenue of $100,000, increased by 6% year over year. 

But Sebastian says, “There is going to be a lot of carnage in traditional bricks-and-mortar retail for companies that don’t adapt quickly to consumer expectations that are constantly shifting.”

In-store retailers must keep discounting prices in the short term to compete, he says. “The lever that in-store retailers think they can pull is to cut prices, but that’s not a game that ends well,” Sebastian says.

Hayley Silver, vice president of Bizrate Insights, says stores still matter. “The majority of retail still takes place in stores and 38% of online shoppers find shipping to a retail store or a local pickup of an online order important,” she says, citing a Bizrate Insights study of 6,767 online buyers.

Leslie Hand, vice president at IDC Retail Insights, says overall and not just during holiday periods, store sales still far outweigh Internet-based sales. “Retailers will have to continue to rationalize physical and online presence, as well as rethink how to attract customers to stores,” she says.

Matthew Nemer, consumer and retail equity analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, says his research shows the growing divide, with Amazon continuing to grab a larger share of the retail market.

“We estimate Amazon captured about 40% of all applicable retail growth dollars in the U.S. during the third quarter and 38% year-to-date in 2015, up from 21% in third quarter 2014 and 22% for all of 2014,” he says. “In contrast Wal-Mart has only captured 11% year to date, only including the two periods Wal-Mart has reported in 2015. This is an interesting reversal from prior to the recession when Wal-Mart was driving 13-16% of retail sales growth and over 20% prior to 2003 and Amazon was only driving 1-5%.”

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