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E-Commerce Versus Store Sales Paradox

March 27, 2018 Harsh Kumar
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According to leading global information company The NPD Group, changing consumer needs and an evolving retail marketplace were the key drivers behind the U.S. apparel industry’s overall sales performance in 2016.


Apparel dollar sales across women, men, and children grew by 3 percent last year, reaching $218.7 billion. The industry had positive overall performance with growth in most categories, but it has struggled to exceed 3 percent sales growth since 2013, as significant gains in select consumer and retail segments were offset by declines in others.


The growth of online shopping, which was underscored during and immediately following the holiday season, was one of the most highlighted retail shifts of 2016. In 2011 online represented only 11 percent of total U.S. men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel sales, but in 2016 that number rose to 19 percent.


Pure play e-commerce sites have been an important piece of online’s growth, outpacing the overall channel performance. Online’s continued growth has come at the expense of in-store sales, affecting the more traditional apparel department, national chain, and specialty channels. The growth that occurred in the online, off-price, and mass channels came from a consumer focus on convenience, value, and price.


The apparel industry is being pushed and pulled in different directions by consumers who are demanding something different, and looking to less traditional buying channels to find it.


That E Commerce has given customers comfort, time, energy and effort and has blessed them with a plethora of choices.


However, this blessing has become a curse to many US retailers. It has involuntarily forced them to either close a lot of their stores or undertake drastic measures in terms of their products and services since with passing time more consumers are switching from brick & mortar stores to e-commerce. Let’s have a look at the cases of some the biggest retailers in US who have announced closure of their stores in 2017. The numbers are extremely shocking.


Top Retailers sales of Apparel Fiscal Year 2016.


From above graphs we can see consensus expectations for total revenue growth among these retailers in fiscal year 2018.


 A significant trend that is impacting the American economy this year is struggling retailers undergoing major store closures. In the first few weeks of the year alone, companies including Macy’s, Sears Holdings, The Limited, American Apparel and several others announced store closures at a significant scale. analysts heard about this and decided to dig into foot traffic patterns to see what we could learn about these store closures and how they impact competitive stores. We found that Millennials turn out for close-out sales, that loyal customers will travel up to double the distance to get to the next closest location of a closing store and that competitors can see material gains over the long run.



Major names such as Macy’s have joined a raft of retailers that are closing stores. The closures charted above are those announced since the third quarter of 2016, so, for companies such as Sears, this is not the grand total.


Macy’s announced 100 store closures in August 2016, and the company recently said that 68 of these will close by mid-2017. Sears has been one of the most aggressive retailers in terms of closing stores: it reduced its store count by 926 between the year ended January 2014 and its fiscal third quarter of 2017 (latest), according to company filings. Its latest closures, announced in January 2017, total


150 stores across the Sears and Kmart chains. The time periods in which these closures will occur vary and some companies have not specified when they will close stores.


Gazing into The E-Commerce Crystal Ball

While there is much uncertainty about the future of e-commerce, what we can say is that there is no demand-based rationale for the dramatic growth rates espoused by most industry analysts. We look at flat income growth from most Americans (shifting consumption preferences) and low acceptance of online shopping overall. This adds up to a growing e-commerce channel, but it's still not large enough in most sectors to have a material impact.

Could Walmart bring e-commerce shopping to the masses? Maybe, but it has lots of ground to make up. In the meantime, all retailers have plenty of time to study consumers and understand why more of them are not doing their shopping online. Only then can retailers not named Amazon develop offers that will change consumers’ minds.

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Harsh Kumar

Harsh is a Consultant at ThreadSol and is a Fashion Technology graduate from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Kolkata. He has more than 4 years of experience in Apparel Manufacturing, Product Development, Supply Chain Management, Sourcing and Apparel Manufacturing. 

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