How the Ecommerce Boom Crushes “Mall Retailers” One by One

The segments at the core of the Brick-and-Mortar Meltdown.

Ecommerce sales in the second quarter 2019 soared 13.3% from a year ago to a new record of $146 billion (seasonally adjusted), the Commerce Department reported today. In 2018, ecommerce sales reached $522 billion, according to revised data released today; at this rate of growth, ecommerce sales will get close to $600 billion this year. Ecommerce sales have doubled in five years.

Ecommerce includes sales by the online operations of brick-and-mortar retailers. Many brick-and-mortar retailers have built thriving online operations: Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Costco rank in the top 10 ecommerce retailers, according to eMarketer:

  1. Amazon
  2. eBay
  3. Walmart
  4. Apple
  5. Home Depot
  6. Best Buy
  7. Macy’s
  8. Qurate Retail Group (QVC, HSN, Zulily, Ballard Designs, Frontgate, Garnet Hill,,Grandin Road)
  9. Costco
  10. Wayfair

Walmart chimed in with its earnings report last week. Walmart US sales ticked up only 2.9% to $85.2 billion; within these Walmart US sales, ecommerce sales surged 35%.

Walmart doesn’t disclose dollar-ecommerce sales, but eMarketer estimates that in 2018, Walmart US generated $21 billion in ecommerce sales, and that in 2019, it will generate $28 billion, an increase of $7 billion for the year. This would mean that brick-and-mortar sales at Walmart stores were flat at best.

Home Depot will report Q2 earnings tomorrow, but for Q1 it reported that online sales jumped 23% to $2.3 billion, and to 8.9% of total sales. This is a business that people thought would never switch much of its sales to ecommerce – given what it sells. But it’s happening

Best Buy will report Q2 earnings next week. For Q1, it reported that online revenues surged 14.5% to $1.3 billion, but that revenues at its brick-and-mortar stores fell 1.3%. So as its revenues are shifting to online, it is further reducing its brick-and-mortar footprint, according to its Q1 SEC filing:

  • Will close all of its 257 remaining Best Buy Mobile stand-alone stores in the US.
  • Closed 12 more of its Best Buy stores in the US over the past 12 months, down to 995 stores.
  • Closed seven more of its high-end appliance stores, Pacific Sales, over the past 12 months, down to 21 stores.

Macy’s reported earnings last week – and what a brick-and-mortar doozie it was. It doesn’t disclose dollar-sales for ecommerce, but only said that ecommerce revenues experienced for the 40th quarter in a row “double-digit growth.” But total sales (which includes ecommerce sales) ticked down 0.5%, and sales at its brick-and-mortar stores fell a much faster but undisclosed rate.

These are the successful ones – the retailers that are spending and investing vast sums of money to make the transition to ecommerce, which includes building the costly fulfillment infrastructure.

The mall retailers that have not made that transition successfully are either already being dismembered in bankruptcy court, such as Sears Holdings, or will be dismembered.

Total retail sales, which includes ecommerce, in Q2 rose 3.2% year-over-year to $1.36 billion, according to revised retail trade data, released today. The increase wasn’t red-hot, but in the middle of the six-year range (from 1.5% in Q4 2015 to 5.6% in Q2 2018):

The 13.3% surge in ecommerce sales increased the share of ecommerce to 10.7% of total retail sales.

But about half of total retail sales are at these three online-resistant retailer segments: gas stations, auto dealers, and grocery and beverage stores, though grocery stores are coming under attack now, including by Amazon and Walmart.

Many of the remaining segments of brick-and-mortar stores are getting trampled by ecommerce.

Revenues at brick-and-mortar department stores in Q2 fell 5.8% year-over-year to $34.5 billion (seasonally adjusted). They’re down 41% from the peak in Q4 2000 and down 20% from the beginning of the data series in 1992. This is the slow methodical destruction of an entire segment, long a cherished destination for American shoppers that are now buying online whatever they used to buy at department stores. Macy’s brick-and-mortar sales are in this category, as are those of bankrupt Sears, Bon-Ton Stores, and Barney’s of New York. And there is no letup in sight:

Brick-and-mortar sporting goods stores were long able to sort of fight off online encroachment. But then in 2016, at the peak of their sales, a major US chain, Sports Authority, went bankrupt and was liquidated. This event shook up the sector. Many of the abandoned customers switched to online purchases when their store closed. And sales at brick-and-mortar sporting goods stores started to skid:

  • Q2 2016 peak: +5.1% year-over-year (to $12.2 billion).
  • Q2 2017: -4.1% year-over-year.
  • Q2 2018: -3.0% year-over-year.
  • Q2 2019: -7.2% year-over-year, to $10.4 billion.

Over the three years, from Q2 2016 to Q2 2019, sales have dropped 14.8% (to eliminate the effects of seasonality, I used a four-quarter moving average):

The stores that are directly hit by ecommerce competition are the classic “mall stores,” by category used by the Commerce Department. I added some samples that have already gone bankrupt. These store categories combined are depicted in the chart below as “mall stores”:

These “mall store” sales, all combined, fell to $155.2 billion in Q2, same level where they’d first been in 2005. Over the same period, ecommerce sales have multiplied by a factor of seven, from $20.8 billion to $146 billion. The blue line in the chart represents sales at these “mall stores”:

So, while surging year after year by the double digits for more than two decades, ecommerce is only 10.7% of total retail sales. But those total retail sales include sales at gas stations, auto dealers, and grocery and beverage stores that account for about half of total retail sales. The other half of retail sales has come under immense pressure – and entire segments, such as video and music stores, have already been wiped out.

Even as the brick-and-mortar landscape is gradually being torn up by ecommerce – something that has been going on for 20 years and may take another 20 years to complete – overall retail sales are growing at a healthy clip. And the survivors among the brick-and-mortar retailers will be those that invest vast sums and successfully make the transition to ecommerce. The others will fall by the wayside.

In 2013, I called Goldman Sachs a “snake-oil salesman” for underwriting a $1-billion J.C. Penney stock offering. Investors got wiped out. And now its longer-dated bonds, including a 100-year bond, have collapsed. Read… I’m in Awe of How Long Zombies Like J.C. Penney Keep Getting New Money to Burn. But Bankruptcy Beckons

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  129 comments for “How the Ecommerce Boom Crushes “Mall Retailers” One by One

  1. Iamafan says:

    The dollar stores are full of low end shoppers. Between them and the online giants and Walmart and Home Depot, only the ethnic specialty stores (i.e. HMart and Patel brother) survive. Doesn’t bother me at all.
    Too many selling the same things.

    • alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit says:

      H-Mart is simply a good supermarket. Sure it’s more Asian-oriented than most, but the prices and quality are very good.

      I haven’t been to a Patel Bros. but there’s a large Indian market in Sunnyvale called India Cash & Carry, and I used to get stuff there. A favorite used to be those “Tasty Bite” dinners, except the “Tasty Bite” brand has been discovered by hipsters years ago so it’s really overpriced. I used to get the same dinners under brand names like MTR and Vimal.

      People are very resistant to buying groceries online. Oops the Amazon delivery guy dropped your milk, but worse, it’s a carton that someone else had returned!

      • sierra7 says:

        Dealing in perishables is a whole universe separate from “hard” goods like canned, bottled, containers of any sort.
        Being a fresh produce stickler I don’t see any present ways to ship by e-commerce those perishables.
        Even some major decent “canned goods” retailers fail in proffering good, fresh produce to the public consumer.
        “Packaged” perishables may be shipped after some kind of “gaseous” treatment to extend storage (possibly nitrogen); will increase costs.
        We used to ship strawberries in at the time was a process “Tectrol” from Santa Clara to Hawaii by ship. Of course today so much can go by aircraft.

        • John Taylor says:

          I’ve seen two ways that work with online groceries, both very similar to online restaurant orders.

          1. Pickup – order groceries online and someone gets it all put together and charges you, then you drive there and they bring it to your car. My niece likes this because she finds it easier than taking her newborn through the store.

          2. Delivery – order groceries online and someone packages them at the local store and delivers them to you. My mother used this a couple times, mainly to try it out.

          This is a somewhat niche area that supplements local brick and mortar stores rather than replacing them. If it became more mainstream, I’d expect that the winners would be the existing warehouse-style stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. I wouldn’t buy their stock to bet on this though, as I don’t expect it to move the needle on grocery chain revenues anytime soon.

        • NBay says:

          If one has the bucks anything goes. I remember seeing glass tanks of live Maine lobsters in Malibu or Scottsdale, as those had to be personally selected alive before dinner.

      • Iamafan says:

        Online for Indian and Chinese food is like Uber Eats, GrubHub, etc. These service are probably the most online in online you can get. Terrific.

  2. Petunia says:

    If landlords don’t start dropping rents for retail storefronts they run the risk of shoppers losing the habit of going out to shop. Yesterday I was out picking up a few things and half the stores at a local shopping area were empty. It’s not fun to shop there anymore, no place to browse, and starting to become depressing. Landlords better start luring shoppers to malls or they might as well tear them down.

    • Prairies says:

      Rents being too high can be an issue but the biggest death nail is the “customers” that only go to the stores to browse. Comparing a product in your hand against a product that is a day or a week away had a value in the past, now people will wait for a few dollars savings.

      In the end the stores can’t stock everything Amazon has 3-5 days away, so if the few stores have what you want on hand you better buy it or it won’t be there next time. All store fronts run on a “turnover” rate, if it sits at 0 for 6-12 months before it sells it will be gone.

      • Joe says:

        I went to the local Home Depot to buy a weeder/hedger/chainsaw/edger in one device.

        They did not have anything for me to buy at the store. I went on the Home Depot website and found exactly what I was shopping for in a few minutes. I read the reviews and made the purchase.

        I was out destroying my overgrown yard in just 3 days.

        Online shopping has returned me to way shopping was done as a child. Thumb through the catalog and have the item sent to your home.

        • Don says:

          Excellent point. As I recall, Sears and Roebuck started out in 1893 as a profitable mail order catalogue operation where, according to the 1900 catalogue, you could order clothes, guns, later kit houses, and the Spirit of Turpentine to kill gastrointestinal parasites. There were no background checks for the guns, mass school shootings were non-existent, but apparently lynchings with rope were popular in the old democratic south.

        • NBay says:

          Yeah. That was dead serious reading for a kid pre Xmas, deciding between your 1 or 2 biggies. Clothes were thrown in to increase your “pile”, (and seldom appreciated), and then going out in the morning and comparing with other kids was also a fun part. So in a way, nothing is new, especially when we moved rural. Wonder what Sear’s sorting centers looked like then?
          Pure toy (when you got a ride to the very few of them) stores were just dreamland and way too expensive, although I got my sibling presents there. Detailed plastic horse for sister, cap pistol, cheaper Tonka for brother. Probably $8-10 each. Had to save for months.

        • NBay says:

          Don, also Thompson machine guns. BTW, first Federal agency to order them in quantity was the USPS. For the clerks sorting in moving railroad cars.

        • Motorcycle guy (Steve L) says:

          Don, one of my clients worked at perhaps the last Sears Roebuck mail-order processing centers. It was on Adam’s Avenue near the Roosevelt Blvd in Northeast Philadelphia. I believe it finally closed operations in 1991….just (before) as Amazon was getting started.

      • MarkinSF says:

        I think you may have inadvertently proved Petunia’s point. If rents were not so damn exorbitant then these stores might be competitive price wise. Nothing destroys an economy in the longer run than high real estate prices. Commercial & residential. Rents being an extractive (this is a valid word BTW) industry they only produce misery for the overall economy when excessive.

        • Prairies says:

          I never said she was wrong about rents being pricey just that the argument also forgets to add in the cost of freight and staffing, not to mention the taxes the online retailers were avoiding. The product will be more expensive to have it in your hand the day you need it because of these costs. Rent can fall but wages are being forced up to keep up with inflation. Freight also went through the roof last year and prices still haven’t dropped even though the freight demand has calmed down.

          Keep supporting the tax avoidance crowd though, it only helps keep the local infrastructure crumble faster.

  3. raxadian says:

    Shopping Malls make no sence.

    Unlike Supermarkets who have a lot of things at reasonable prices, shopping malls have few things at expensive prices.

    If Internet Ecommerce is killing the Shopping Mall Stars then is not happening fast enough.

    Supermarkets do make home delivers and even have shopping webpages and apps, but people keep going to the actual stores because they want to pick the meat, fruit and veggies they buy by looking at them first. And for other reasons.

    Will the day brick and mortal stores are gone for good finally come? Maybe but people are gonna conplain a lot about produce.

  4. roddy6667 says:

    People who lament the closing of brick and mortar stores need to visit Westfield, MA. It is called Whip City because it was once the center of the huge buggy whip industry.
    Not so much now.
    Things change.

    • Jon says:

      It wouldn’t be so bad if Amazon wasn’t breaking anti-trust legislation by funding their retail sector with their web services sector. Karl Denninger goes into this quite a bit on his website.

      Maybe someone can help me with this: now that Amazon has finished its South Lake Union offices, it has now decided to move to Bellevue. It’s almost as if it wants to build things to use as a write-off.

  5. CAMA says:

    Some thoughts:

    Malls are filled with vanilla offerings which the M generation are not interested in and the BB generation is no longer spending on at the same rate. The bigger is always better and more/more/more mindset is over.

    The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…meaning: less quantity, but of better quality, ideally from makers themselves, is preferred. Authenticity is important – look no further than bra’s (bye bye VS)….

    Supermarkets – missing the mark in my opinion. These oversized relics are waiting for a remake….who ever wanted to shop in a “warehouse”/oversized format anyway? I am surprised at some of the swift changes (kombucha readily available!), I am equally surprised many supposed “foods” still line the shelves…they may be missing an opportunity to become quality prepared food hubs…M’s love delish prepared food, ideally, delivered.

    Video and music were wiped out by advances in technology not e-commerce….no?

    • QQQBall says:

      I agree, smaller perhaps slightly higher-end food stores. I rarely go to Vons or ABS anymore.

  6. cd says:

    I’ll be the contrarian here and say that Nordstroms is a buy at this level with 6% dividend….

    they are real retail, customer service second to none still brings in the shoppers……

  7. Paulo says:

    Automotive question for Wolf.

    Why aren’t new truck and car purchases available online, yet? Is it to protect their dealerships? If so, why hasn’t a rogue dealer broke the mold and offered online sales?


    • zoomev says:

      crony capitalism

      new car dealer associations buy state legilators. legilators enact statutes that prevent it.

      just ask tesla.

    • cd says:

      where have you been? they have been selling cars online forever, you can do the whole transaction and get it delivered……

      From someone who still talks to 100’s of dealers a year….

    • Prairies says:

      You can buy online if you contact the right dealer. My last car I bought from a dealer I didn’t have to see in person, the dealer drove to me even and that was 5 or 6 years ago. My uncle has done this for years now and his dealer is in a separate province.

      A quick email from a smart salesman, an easy to fill out credit app emailed back. Delivery or pick up arranged and done. Just because they have lots doesn’t mean they don’t use E-commerce.

      • Iamafan says:

        I had bought 3 cars after my stroke this way. I set some rigorous but fair requirements. I knew the money had to be right. 2 dealers met my needs. Even got the car delivered at my house.

        I bought a Chevy Tahoe more than a decade ago from a dealer beside Yale Univ this way. All online, he delivered. It’s simpler.

        When dealers try to salesman me, I just close the phone and x them out. If my visit goes sideways, I walk away. After working more than 3 decades in Queens, NYC, you probably learned most of the tricks.

    • JimGraham says:

      Look around.

      There are at least 4 dealers in NEO that have a online “store” that actually does away with the salesman interaction at the dealership.

    • char says:

      i think most new cars are already sold online except for the paperwork.

      Paper work, dealership laws. upselling, loan paper work,, advertising the service department, selling the old car all play a part but the most important reason is IMHO delivery. Truck filled with cars has problems with driving inside a residential area.

      • Paulo says:

        Well guys, I live in Canada and I don’t see this as a viable option. What you are describing is the buyer finding a dealer/salesman and communicating by email…working out a few finance details by email.

        That isn’t online purchasing.

        I’m talking about going to a Toyota site, and not just going through the ‘build your car and price it’ for an MSRP, but actually ordering from a catalogue.

        Delivery could be a regional central site. Email contact, “Paul, your truck is coming in on Friday”.

        I just bought a used truck and needed a 7 pin to 4 pin trailer wiring adapter. I went online, selected from various vendors, and ordered 2 @ $8.98 cdn per. For shits and giggles the next time I was in town I checked the price of one off the shelf and it was $34.

        That is what I am talking about…not communicating by email with a salesman but actually ordering a vehicle from a central/organizing branch of the manufacturer, just like Sears Catalogue used to do selling damn fine houses back last century. I don’t need a salesman to tel me what I want and need.


        • Prairies says:

          Paulo I live in Rural Canada, way more secluded than you and it works. You are just avoiding dealerships because they are over priced, not because they are hard to get ahold of.

        • char says:

          Cheapest new car is something like $10k. 1% is still $100. This allows human interaction. Same as with houses. $100 is more than the median Amazon purchase

        • NBay says:

          Like Dunster BC? When I was there at uncle’s in mid and early 70’s, power for whole area came from generators on RR tracks with tank cars lined up, in McBride, I think.

    • sierra7 says:

      Have a good friend who has been buying all their vehicles on line at E-Bay for many years. He swears by his purchases. Of course he is a good “backyard” mechanic and can fix any “defects” found after the sales. He has traveled to many states to pick up his purchases.

  8. NoName says:

    ” CEOs of 181 top American companies – including Apple and Amazon – say the new focus of corporations is to ‘improve society’ rather than make profits for shareholders ” – DailyMail

    200+ comments on that one, Wolf, guaranteed!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      This is like billionaires such as Buffett saying out loud other billionaires should pay more taxes. They need to quit talking and start paying more in taxes. They can be less aggressive in their tax strategies and pay billions more in taxes, no problem.

      And in the same vein, nothing stops these companies from “improving society.” They could have done it last year, or year before. But then, does that mean a Nest thermostat or an Alexa in every home so that they get to listen to our pillow talk so they can figure out how to improve soceity? When these folks talk about “improving society” I get scared :-]

      • alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit says:

        Buffet’s far too busy buying up mobil home parks full of retirees and jacking up the rents about 5X and kicking them out because they can’t pay, then scraping the lot clean and building an overpriced condo or some crap.

        Buffet’s pretty much like “Mom” in Futurama, only about 10X more evil.

      • eg says:

        The new scariest words in the English language, “we’re from the corporations, and we’re here to help!”

      • sierra7 says:

        To all:
        “Citizens United” is an abomination to all society. Corporations exist for only one thing…$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. If corporate “currency” is to be the only currency then we are really doomed!

      • Iamafan says:

        Improving Society for whom? There’s more than a billion Chinese and Indians. Are they counting on the likes of Buffett? I don’t think so.

  9. Old Engineer says:

    Home Depot has an excellent site. Product info includes specs and manuals, where appropriate. Also a question and answer section where mfr’s reps frequently answer the questions. Most things will ship to home for free, this is probably being subsidized. Everything will ship to a store near you for free. Many items including appliances at Lowe’s and Home Depot have been special order for years. So both already had some e-commerce infrastructure in place as well as experience in order fulfillment.

    I still believe (and I know you don’t agree) that a big part of the increase in retail sales are cost increases. I don’t think that, on average, units sold is increasing, and in some categories is shrinking. The fall in shipping seems to support this belief.

    I also have the impression that a lot of the smaller e-retailers don’t seem to be doing as well. The number of ad emails from some of them has increased dramatically in the last year and “sales” are becoming more frequent. Some of the emails sound desperate.

    • SocalJim says:

      Lowes stocks appliances, Home Depot does not. Landlords know this one.

      • Iamafan says:

        But the wholesale warehouse that home Depot uses is nearby. Price matters. They’ll deliver anyway.

        As long as the showroom is equipped and serve the masses, then fine. I bought a Honda snowblower without seeing it from home Depot. Good service.

        • SocalJim says:

          Home Depot has the same appliance prices as Lowes. But, most Home Depot appliances take quite a few days to be delivered. Try telling a tenant that the new refrigerator will be there in about 10 days … tell me how that works out for you. You can take your pickup to Lowes and drive away with an appliance. Plus, they have a decent selection in stock.

      • NBay says:

        Between Lowes and Harbor Freight best China hand tool lines, the Snap-On salesman was literally laughed out of auto shop class mandatory and traditional, gathering.
        Sad story for USA, though.

  10. Art says:

    Buying shoes online sucks. What a time waster. I long for the days when there were brick and mortar stores with a huge selection.

  11. Panamabob says:

    I was in Brianwood Mall in Ann Arbor Mi. this week found it still full of business and thriving. I was surprised, the Malls in my town, Toledo Oh. are gone except one Westfield,..just a matter of time for both.
    I will note that my visit to Ann Arbor Mall was my first visit to a Mall in 5 years, necessitated to find an Apple store for replacement phone due to defect.
    Might be another 5-10 ten years until I return, who cares for window shopping,..maybe never since I’m 70 now.

  12. Panamabob says:

    Ps..I did walk the Mall for exercise, not browsing the stuff.

  13. ewmayer says:

    “The mall retailers that have not made that transition successfully are either already being dismembered in bankruptcy court, such as Sears Holdings…”

    Lack of e-commerce is secondary in the demise of Sears – as Wolf himself has documented, Sears is a classic case of private-equity looting by Eddie “the lamprey” Lampert and pals. But yeah, having been gutted and asset-stripped by a bunch of PE crooks makes it *really* hard to make that huge capital investment needed to build an e-commerce platform.

    • envo says:

      We Company just announced they are buying up hundreds of empty malls and turning them into dorms and work spaces for Millennials.

  14. envo says:

    When does the commercial property market collapse?

  15. andy jackson says:

    FYI: SNAP participants will be able to purchase foods like bread, cereal, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, and dairy products.

  16. char says:

    Are Netflix and Spotify included in ecommerce sales? They are not in eMarketer list and they (and piracy) are the reason record and video stores no longer exist.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Downloads are services and a NOT part of retail. Retail is goods. Not services.

      There are quite a few “goods” that in recent decades have become services. Such as music purchased on albums or CDs (goods) v. downloads (services) and the whole software as a services thing, where you no longer buy the software in a box but pay for a subscription for cloud services.

      • char says:

        So are iTunes and steam services? I think you should add a graph mall stores v ecommerce & eservices. Mainly because mall stores sales would today be lower than ecommerce & eservices

        ps. eservices as in ebooks, Netflix, iTunes, Spotify & Steam

  17. char says:

    It could be regulations why this may not happen in the US but in the UK all the sellers of the expensive wines have gone e. I think the specialty booze shop has already been “blockbustered” in the UK

    • SwissKev says:

      Oddbins is the large one that you’re thinking of I’m guessing? A sorely missed staple of many high streets.
      Tanners is still around and doing quite well although they’ve only got 7 or so actual shops; I used to order from them back in my hotelery days and their online service works quite well.

  18. water wheel says:

    I’m suddenly remembering all the old crappy industrial red brick buildings in New Hampshire, which were just starting to be converted from their Industrial Age textile roots, to spiffy condos and shops. That was in the mid 1990’s and now, 30 years later, after The Dotcom Bubble & Great Recession, the historic mill real estate is worth more than ever.

    I imagine that many malls and brick and mortar buildings will be torn down or converted into brew pubs and places that sell trump perfume, or maybe they’ll become homes for computers that design ways to take jobs from humans, maybe old malls can become server farms, bitcoin ops, cloud storage …

    “Experts agree that there just aren’t enough empty mills or shoe factories in the state to meet all of New Hampshire’s housing needs. New construction, they say, is necessary.”

  19. bungee says:

    One reason that brick and mortar will still be valuable is when you want it right now. Not next day. But right now. Food is like that. Clothes can be too.

    • NBay says:

      Or hardware. I remember getting yelled at by contractor for using Ace instead of places where he had accounts. But then explaining, arguing, mandatory early am talk/lie gatherings, and yelling was his main (only) function.

  20. David Hall says:

    I bought a faux leather recliner from Wayfair for $200, free delivery. Some assembly was required.

    I bought a Waterpik water flosser at a local Walmart for much cheaper than what I found listed in Google.

    Physical stores suffered shoplifters. Online stores paid for online ads and front page visibility.

    • NoEasyDay says:

      Walmart has done an amazing job with their APP.

      Can’t find something in the store, search on the app, and it tells you if it is in stock and which isle too.

      It does purchase history with label images.

      Soon you will be able to scan your purchases with your phone right at the shelf so that you can avoid the normal checkout process!

      Of course there’s Walmart Pay with your card’s data saved.

      Jeff Bezos has some catching up to do!

  21. Ook says:

    This is a North American meltdown.
    Although I don’t have the numbers, in Asia the physical retail sector seems to be booming. At least three factors come to mind:

    1. Electronics places everywhere I go in Asia advertise that they will match any price found online. This renders online retailers impotent on price.
    2. Retail in Asia works hard to provide a positive experience for consumers, as opposed to the austerity stores in North America that have salespeople who know nothing about the product. Places I go in Asia have knowledgeable staff working in beautiful spaces.
    3. There is more retail space per capita in North America, so part of this is probably some kind of physical retail bubble bursting, independent of what happens online.

    • sierra7 says:

      My good experience shopping at the brick and mortar Best Buy in the Ca. Central Valley is they always check “on line” for competitive pricing and always have given me the lower price even if it is lower than their listed/posted one.

  22. HC says:

    Fed up with the rubbish I have received in recent online purchases, most of my buying now is back in store. Too many retailers have got lazy with quality and customer service online. It’s easier and cheaper to buy locally lately. If the US is anything like Australia, people will start going back to stores more soon so they can see and touch products before purchase.

    • ZeroBrain says:

      I don’t know about that – with Amazon locker, returns are easy and free. If the seller puts out garbage, it gets returned and seriously hurts their bottom line. This puts upward pressure on quality. And brick and mortar isn’t much competition on selection or convenience (computer clicks vs driving around).

    • Julien says:

      That won’t happen.

  23. unit472 says:

    Let’s face it. America has become a coarser and more unpleasant society. The Central Business District is congested and patrolled by predatory traffic and parking authorities. Malls and stores have grown so big time is wasted just trying to find what you came for. There was a now bankrupt grocery chain ( Sweetbay) that put a directory on the handle of its shopping carts thus if you needed coffee or tea it told you what aisle they were on. Is that so hard for other stores ( attention Lowes and Home Depot) to do. I do not want to walk a half a mile through a gigantic store when all I need is a handful of 1/4 inch screws.

    • Lance Manly says:

      Hardware is one of those things that just comes up and you need it. I use the home depot buy online and pick up, reasonably short turn over time when it is ready. If what you are buying is not large you just scan the barcode on your phone and a locker pops open with your stuff. No lines.

    • IdahoPotato says:

      If I am driving by HD and need something, I look up the item on my phone before entering the store. It will tell you the aisle and bay in that specific store. Ditto with Lowes.

      Most time I order online and pick up in store.

    • Betty Smith says:

      Or, like Costco, they change things up on a daily basis! I know so many people who hate shopping there because they have no idea where thing are and it’s rare to find anyone to help and of course no directories or logic, just random stocking resets. Even a Goodwill store has better stocking logic!

      • RIPP says:

        They do that on purpose so you have to hunt around for what you want. This makes you walk past all kinds of things that they hope you’ll buy on a whim.

        • Frank says:

          Costco is doing just fine at both their physical stores and online. And yes it is annoying that they are constantly moving around products within the stores. But as RiPP states this is by design for impulse buying. It works. But because they are not seeking out the Walmart shopper, but a shopper with more discretionary income for that impulse purchase.
          I know that when I make my bimonthly shopping trip, I am more likely than not to pick up a bottle of wine or two that I hadn’t planned on. Did you know that Costco is the largest wine retailer in the US.

  24. Andy says:

    E sales will continue to canabilise bricks and mortar. It’s cheaper for the consumer. Time, gas, parking lot car damage, crowds, lines, choice, stock only available at another store – who needs it unless there is no option.

  25. SocalJim says:

    Interesting in that malls and store fronts in many wealthy areas are booming … especially walkable wealthy areas. But, once you drop down the demographics scale, you see empty store fronts and shuttered malls. Now, I know someone will find a PC violation in this observation, but it is just an accurate observation.

    • Arizona Slim says:

      Case in point noted above: Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A2 is one of the richest cities in the Midwest.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      It seems you got this backwards. Clearly, you don’t get out much to “walkable wealthy areas.” Try Manhattan:

      Here are Manhattan retail rents that are plunging due to empty stores:

      And here are dozens of photos of Madison Ave’s shuttered shops:

      A brand new mall in walkable San Francisco’s center (very expensive) is vacant because there is not enough retail demand, as other big stores, such as the Macy’s Men’s store on Union Square, have closed. Lots of shuttered stores all around San Francisco, and this is a very wakable and wealthy place. So try to get out a little and walk around. It’s good for your health.

      • SocalJim says:

        The Greenwich Stamford area, as well as northern Jersey, and the wealthy Westchester town retail areas are having no problems at all. The Madison Ave is a different animal … that location is more of a halo location for marketing reasons … sky high rents that do not pencil out with retail foot traffic. But, once you get off Madison Ave, the restaurants are doing just fine and are very busy.

        • Iamafan says:

          I live in the Greenwich Stamford Area. I agree that many folks are super wealthy here. Been here three decades already. I have to disagree with you. Our Stamford mall is getting empty and parking is scary. Even Westchester is looking bad. Both towns have “bifurcated”. You need to live on the right side of the railroad. Or else, sorry. But recent construction is changing that drastically.

          To those who don’t know, a lot of hedge funds are here especially near the water (the sound). Both Dem and Republican candidates have homes here.

          In Jersey, think Upper Saddle River area.

      • LessonIsNeverTry says:

        My experience matches SocalJim’s, although my walking (which is robust and indeed good for my health) has not taken place in SF or NY. Affluent Seattle Eastside, however, is doing quite well. At least on the retail surface. Perhaps it is a Potemkin’s village. Either way, few closed stores, lots of new retail space.

        The overall trend is clear, however. Really makes you wonder what will become of the mall RE in this country in aggregate.

      • Ed says:

        Wolf – Same thing is happening in DC, NYC, and across Philly metro area. Vacant store fronts are everywhere. The only businesses that are surviving are very good fast casual and high end restaurants and exercise studios (soul cycle, orange theory, bar). The cities can’t support any more restaurants or exercise studios so the vacancies rates are staggering. On the plus side, there are a ton of great restaurants and very fit people walking around.

        The downside is the big cities are getting to be very depressing again. This is purely anecdotal, but it seems like there is a mass exodus of business and young workers from large high cost of living cities to low-cost, high quality of living western cities. Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada seem to be sucking up a ton of big city refugees right now and for the past 30 years.

    • RIPP says:

      Scottsdale Fashion Square seems to be doing okay. There were tons a of people when my wife and I were there a couple of weeks ago, and this is the off season.

  26. Escher says:

    Toys r Us is growing in Asia. Keeps opening new stores in Singapore, and has entered the Indian market as well.

  27. Xypher2000 says:

    Evolve or die, even my dad who owns a sporting goods store that my great grandfather started in 1945 is going to close the doors in a few years once he decides to retire. They had 4 stores in the late 80’s to mid 90’s, now 1. I built him a basic website in the mid 200’s and then told him he needed to add ecommerce to it because people are not going to go to his website and then call and see if he has stuff available and to purchase. He didn’t wan’t to because they charged 3-4% per transaction. The customer wants to buy then and there. I mostly buy online and will not spend any time on a website that i can’t purchase directly from. He still survives selling to sports equipment to athletic teams and schools.

    • IslandTeal says:

      Athletic Corner stays in business the same way. Guess the teams cannot figure out how to use eCommerce. Wait…. They and school districts are all non profits so no problem re pricing.

  28. Just Some Random Guy says:

    I still can’t find a parking spot at my local Costco. Even on a weekday morning it’s packed.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      No problem parking at my Costco. I go on Saturdays, peak time. But I have to fight SF weekend rush-hour traffic to get there.

      • Just Some Random Guy says:

        Maybe my parking lot is too small?
        It’s always a 15 min wait to get gas at Costco too. And yes I know, I’m saving like $5 and spending 15 minutes to do so which is a bad use of time. But damn it, it’s the principle of it!!

      • Ed says:

        Costco is one of the few retailers that will survive. Great grocery selection draws us in and we scavenge the aisles looking for incredible deals on goods. I think Costco has saved our family $50K over the past 5 years on food and goods.

        Pretty sure Costco is one of the few retailers that is showing positive same store sales.

  29. CreditGB says:

    At 67 years of age, I witnessed a local mall in Pontiac Michigan get built, thrive, whither, and die. After several years of sitting empty, tt now sits in mountains of broken concrete and piles of steel for recycling. Sears, Macys, JC Penney, even Montomery Ward were the anchors. It had a lot of the usual fill in stores and a couple of restaurants. Itused to be my place to do regular shopping, and all of my Christmas shopping.

    I believe its decline began when the shopping clientele gradually changed from families, to groups – then gangs – of youths “hanging out”. Overt time, fewer and fewer shoppers left the big stores almost empty of shoppers so they pulled out, leaving the -always oblivious to change- Sears store as the only one left.

    Not sure if the change in the USE of the malls is given enough consideration when analyzing the demise of the concept of the shopping mall in America.

    Just one observation/opinion here.

    • SocalJim says:

      Totally agree. In my post, I tried not to spell this out so clearly.

    • NBay says:

      No PC involved, we spent Jr High years wandering all over town, matinees, BB gun wars, checking out construction sites and civil defense stashes in abandoned bldgs, trying slugs on new vending machines, making and setting off bombs, cannons, rockets, shoplifting, throw stuff at teenager cars,etc, etc…very busy, lotsa walking, running involved.
      Anyway, the point really is, without sitting around malls, what do they do today? Video games?

      • ru82 says:

        That is right. They play or watch video games. I bet that average teen spends at least 4 to 6 hours a day on their phone, tablet, or laptop, or gaming machine.

      • CreditGB says:

        NBay, Ha, ha…. a lot of that sounds familiar to me too. Out after breakfast, back by sun down. Somehow managed to stay alive, raise 4 kids and now retired, and able to support ourselves.

        One of my last shopping trips to this mall…”Summit Place Mall”…after not having been there in quite some time, it was startling to see fairly large groups of young kids out in the Mall, making the place seem generally very busy, yet none of the stores had any shoppers in them.

        It sure seemed odd.

  30. IdahoPotato says:

    I am done dealing with the bobblehead saleswomen and men who know nothing about the products on the shelves.

  31. RangerOne says:

    Malls still make sense for what they are best at. Clothing and now more and more food. Maybe a movie theater.

    At loy of them may be glorified fronts for a robust online store. But they serve as advertisement and a point of pickup and interaction still.

    Clearly plenty of larger stores still think it is worth it, and malls in SD are still crowded. People always need some place to go show off their shit.

    • char says:

      How many large stores have signed a contract a few years back that they can’t get out under for a few more years? My guess is that even the survivors will start to close large number of stores

  32. Iamafan says:

    Does anyone know why LIBOR is lower than EFFR (and of course SOFR) now?
    Is there a liquidity issue now?
    Wonder how this will affect the zombies.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      The dollar Libor is almost always a notch higher than the equivalent US Treasury yield. And it still is: 1-month Libor: 2.17%; 1-month Treasury yield = 2.05%. There is no issue.

      The effective federal funds rate is a rate that the Fed works hard to keep in the middle of its target range, EFFR now = 2.13%. This is a reflection of the Fed’s target range, not the market, or liquidity, or whatever. The EFFR doesn’t say anything about the market.

      But Libor doesn’t track the EFFR. It tracks the equivalent Treasury yield, but is slightly higher. And this is still the case. There is no liquidity issue.

      • Iamafan says:

        2.09538 overnight libor
        2.13 EFFR
        2.11 SOFR
        2.1 IOER
        2.059 4 week T bill

        I thought libor was normally higher.
        So it tracks the Treasury bill. I plotted it with EFFR and was very surprised.

  33. GSH says:

    The brick and mortar stores need to shrink. The US has way too much retail space per consumer (24 sqft) vs say UK (5 sqft). Phoenix is a good example. You go one mile in any direction (N, S, W, E) and you find another largely empty fairly new shopping mall. And they are still building them. Obviously, there is money in building the malls with low interest money. Less so in running them.

    • ru82 says:

      I seeing a lot of small strip malls being built. They are for the insurance guy, edward jones, small sandwich shop, liquor store, and a salon.

      Every other major block add in a karate teaching place (so the parent can at least get the kids off the computer for 1 hour), a take out pizza place, and a Walgreens or CVS.

  34. There is a renaissance for retail, when they move away from mass market trade. The home improvements have less advantage, a 2 X 4 must always be an inch and a half wide and ninety two inches long. For all others limited edition, short runs, just in time marketing skills and savvy buyers will set the good stores apart. The era of the mass produced is coming to an end.

  35. California Bob says:

    I predict if the spate of mass shootings at malls–really, anywhere people congregate–continue/increase the malls will be in even more dire straights.

    • Petunia says:

      The recent events have a political air to them. It’s like they want to sow chaos and fear, there is no randomness to them in my mind. Having said this, I haven’t felt safe in a mall in decades, more so since the GFC.

  36. Petunia says:

    Warning: Sexist remark!

    For the guys who commented they prefer ecommerce to B&M because they don’t like/need to browse, you really don’t count. It’s women that spend the bulk of the retail money. Women like to browse and it leads to more spending. I still get the better deals in B&M.

    • GirlInOC says:

      right? I used to love shopping in a mall. I still do. But sometimes convenience wins over experience. It IS nice just to type in exactly what I need and get it 2 days later (hell, Amazon now does next day shipping on a lot of my orders).
      But if I’m out to drop some money on clothes, makeup, shoes, etc…I go the mall route. Luckily South Coast Plaza, Main Place and Brea malls are still doing ok.

    • GirlInOC says:

      and Target does the double whammy to me…they get me with their cartwheel discounts and I chose “in store pick up” and then I go inside and spend another $100 bucks of things I don’t need (because can anyone ever get out of Target for under $100??)

    • NBay says:

      True. Shopping therapy. BTW, still 40-50K killed on roads, so you are safer in mall, although an obvious effort is being made to stir up peasant wars.

  37. MarkinSF says:

    Hey Wolf,
    Did I say something too controversial? First time I’ve a comment not posted.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      No. It was sent to moderation automatically, and I don’t see why. That stuff happens. It’s posted now. Maybe it’s the spam filter. It’s very aggressive and looks at things like what internet servers the message was routed through.

  38. medial axis says:

    The revolution in retail has hardly started. Now that we have crypto-currencies which you can use to pay online, and phone to phone, without revealing your identity (or bank details) and at near to zero cost per tx[1] we will likely see an increase in small vendors. Many of those those small vendors will resist take over by the likes of Amazon (which tends to happen now) simple because they won’t be paying the likes of Visa 2-3% per tx – with crypto it’s the buy who pays for the tx.

    [1] DuckDuckGo “Lightning Network”

  39. Rowen says:

    We’re in a mid-superstar city, with a growing retiree population, and there’s still a glut of standalone ex-drugstores (Walgreens, Rite-Aids). and soon to be bank branches.

  40. GXS says:

    Shop in Dubai and Asia. The US is not as fun, organized or clean. Glad I was gone for so long- 12 years. Cant wait to leave again and never return. Only came back as my job shifted here for 2 years. Only 1 year left LOL

    Buffet, Trump and the rest of our ‘saviors’ can have the US. Dont care at all what happens in the future. Better places to be in the world and better places to shop and live. The farmers, far right wing and others can have it and spread their trash in church and on TV etc. There is nothing the US offers that cannot be found in other places. Crime, rudeness, toxic politics and religious stupidity have taken over anything that matters.

    • GirlInOC says:

      I totally feel what you’re putting down…but for some of us, this is “home” and it’s worth fighting for. We flipped our red OC district to blue last election, and I think the progressive message is slowly moving into the mainstream. History won’t be kind to Trump.

      • Just Some Random Guy says:

        It’s easy to flip when you’re cheating, err I mean vote harvesting.

  41. Joe says:

    My brick and mortar blacksmithy specializing in replacing horse shoes is failing. I blame ecommerce.

  42. B Wilds says:

    Retail stores closings have become so common they go often go unnoticed. Recently the last Sears store in my city shuttered its doors. It was the third anchor store in the mall near my office to exit in 2018. Last year more than 7,000 stores closed their doors, more than twice the amount of stores that opened in the same time period.

    The costly bill resulting from online retailers assaulting our brick and mortar retailers will come in many forms including defaults on loans and bonds as well as reduced property taxes for local communities. We can also expect a slew of empty buildings blighting our landscape and driving down the value of properties across the nation.

  43. Martin says:

    Interestingly, you see the same kind of zombie mentality in Thailand. It worked last year, and the year before…..ergo it will work this year and next.
    These emerging economies used to be based on government sanctioned financial repression that fuelled multi-decade, heavy industry investment. This is what Japan (copying Germany) did, and in turn they themselves were copied by South Korea and Taiwan, please note the other two ‘Asia Tigers’, Hong Kong and Singapore are nothing more than glorified tax havens.
    Sadly, for the wannabe 2nd generation of Thailand, Malaysia and the rest, the wonders of modern advertising and the Internet, mean that there are no savings to tap, and thus the model quickly becomes one of aping the ‘developed’ economies and engulfing the ‘consumer’ population in debt in-order to feed domestic rent seeking. The tragedy is that the Thai-owned ‘Mall’ or ‘Central’ will make cents on the dollar on that shiny new iPhone that Win,Pin, or Non buys with borrowed money. Apple and Samsung on the other hand will make $100’s.
    The focus of this site and 99% others is on North America, and to a lesser degree Western Europe. This is understandable, but I fear it means that they will all become increasingly irrelevant, and fast. The centre of economic power is moving East, and with it, the contradictions and conflicts that will shape the economic future. The dollar has perhaps an other decade to go as a global reserve currency, and when that privilege goes, empty shopping malls will be the least of The Land of the Free’s worries.

  44. Ed says:

    Martin – Why does it take you 3 minutes to find underwear? Is your computer slow? I’ve found Costco actually has cheaper goods than Amazon. We go every 2-3 weeks and stock up on groceries and random goods that are impossibly cheap. Still can’t believe that a tempurpedic pillow costs $5 at Costco now. I swear those would cost $50+ ten years ago at the mall.

    Not only are Amazon and Costco way more efficient, but it’s insanely cheap. I rarely spend more than $10 on any article of clothing anymore and just bought a 60 inch 4K for my mother-in-law for $300. I’m looking at homes in a “Fancy” area of Pennslyvania that are basically free at 3.3% interest. Great time to be alive for a slightly above average Joe.

  45. Agnes says:

    I don’t like to go into stores. They’re junky and ugly; they have loud, cheap sound systems blasting uncomfortable sounds; sometimes they stink; the clerks are unhappy; and most are in high-traffic areas that I don’t want to drive into unless I have to.

    Sometimes it’s nice going into a grocery store after a blizzard in February [New England] and look at the beautiful displays of produce. I don’t buy any of them, though, because they are often inedible, but they are nice to look at midwinter. There’s still the problem of the sound system and the stench of the bakery.

    I buy most of my food from farms and farm markets. They’re nice to drive to, and pleasant to see. The clerks are often owners and glad to see me.

    Otherwise, I stay in my pj’s and order from the internet. True, the sites are often junky and ugly, but I don’t have to linger – just order what I need and get on with my life.

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