Ecommerce Spikes by Most Ever. Brick & Mortar Melts Down. Department Stores are Toast

What’s astounding many people: ecommerce growth is not leveling off, but keeps surging at blistering rates.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Ecommerce retail sales jumped 16.4% in the fourth quarter 2019 compared to a year earlier (not seasonally adjusted), to $187 billion, and reached $602 billion for the year, double the amount five years ago, according to the Commerce Department. Ecommerce retail sales in Q4 were $26.4 billion higher than in Q4 a year earlier, the biggest year-over-year dollar-gain in the history of ecommerce, as it continues to gain momentum, instead of losing it:

On a seasonally adjusted basis, ecommerce sales hit $154.5 billion in Q4 and accounted for 11.4% of total retail sales. But wait… retail sales include sales at gas stations (gasoline, diesel), auto dealers, and grocery and beverage stores. These three categories have largely been able to resist ecommerce – and they account for 55% of brick-and-mortar retail sales.

But the remaining 45% of brick-and-mortar sales are getting crushed and particularly the group of retailers that tend to populate shopping malls, including department stores: the “mall retailers,” as I call them.

Ecommerce sales include the online sales of brick-and-mortar retailers, many of which have built big and thriving online operations. According to eMarketer, these were the top 10 ecommerce retailers in 2019 – six of them started out as iconic US brick-and-mortar chains:

  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, and Grandin Road)
  9. Costco
  10. Wayfair (ecommerce furniture retailer)

Walmart belatedly got the memo a few years ago.

Walmart is now throwing everything it has at ecommerce to see what sticks, including ecommerce-related acquisitions, many of which didn’t stick. For 2019, it allocated $5.2 billion of its capital expenditures to building out its ecommerce infrastructure and technology, more than double what it allocated to spending on new stores and store remodels ($2.5 billion).

In its Q4 earnings report two days ago, it said that Walmart U.S. ecommerce sales had surged 37% year-over-year and that Sam’s Club ecommerce sales had surged 33%.

But Walmart, having gotten such a late start, remains woefully behind. In 2019, it started disclosing its ecommerce sales in dollars in its quarterly SEC filings, but hasn’t yet released it for Q4. Through the first three quarters of 2019 – so not including the huge holiday sales quarter – Walmart’s US ecommerce sales jumped 40% year-over-year to $14 billion. This indicates that its US ecommerce sales for the fiscal year 2019 were around $21 billion, which would be about 8.5% of its total US sales.

Other retailers are way ahead of Walmart.

Macy’s, when it announced in early February another 125 store closings, on top the prior waves of store closings, also disclosed that its ecommerce sales have surged to “more than $6 billion per year,” to over 25% of its total sales.

Nordstrom hasn’t yet released its SEC filings for fiscal Q4, but in its 10-Q for the third quarter, it disclosed that ecommerce sales had risen to 34% of total sales, on a 7% rise in ecommerce sales and a 7% drop in brick-and-mortar sales, for a 2% drop in overall sales.

Brick-and-mortar department stores – those that don’t want to go the route of Bon-Ton Stores, Sears Holdings, Barney’s, and soon J.C. Penney, among many regional chains – decided that they must seek salvation in ecommerce because ecommerce is wiping out department stores one by one, and chain by chain.

In Q4, sales at department stores dropped 6.6% year-over-year to just $33.1 billion (seasonally adjusted), having collapsed by 43% from their peak in Q4 2000 despite two decades of population growth and inflation.

This is the brick-and-mortar business Macy’s, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney, and Sears are in. It’s crazy to think that this can be turned around; the only thing department stores can do is slow down the decline at their stores while trying to migrate their business to ecommerce:

Total retail sales are just fine, thanks to ecommerce.

Including ecommerce, total retail sales in Q4 rose 3.9% year-over-year to $1.39 trillion, according to the Commerce Department’s revised retail trade data:

But the “Mall Stores” are in trouble.

So about 55% of brick-and-mortar retail sales take place at stores that have largely been resistant to ecommerce: gas stations, car dealers, and grocery and beverage stores. But these stores too are now under attack:

  • The very gradual switch to EVs, which people can charge at home, cuts sales at gas stations.
  • People are already pricing and buying cars online but run into state franchise laws that protect new-car dealers, and into issues getting the vehicle delivered and dealing with the documents. But these issues are getting resolved.
  • Americans are very gradually warming up to buying fresh groceries online. Many products in grocery stores, such as household goods, are already being bought online.

The remaining 45% of brick-and-mortar sales take place in stores that are under brutal attack from ecommerce. In that group, the most vulnerable are the “mall stores.” They include these categories, with sample bankrupt chains in parentheses:

Combined sales at these “mall stores” peaked in Q4 2007 at $164 billion and have since declined 6.1%, despite 15 years of population growth and inflation and despite a 42% surge in total retail sales (brick-and-mortar and ecommerce) over the period. In Q4 2019, sales fell by 2.2% year-over-year to $154 billion, back where they’d first been in Q4 2004, and have now been surpassed by ecommerce sales:

Note that ecommerce retail sales cover the whole spectrum and are broader than mall stores. But the comparison delineates the trend over the past 20 years.

What astounds many people year after year is that ecommerce growth is not leveling off in any way, but keeps growing at rates ranging between 12% and 17%. The dollar-sales base of ecommerce gets larger every year due to this steamy growth – in 2019 it reached $602 billion. And the dollar-sales increases are getting larger too, and are taking ever larger bites out of brick-and-mortar.

Consumers run this show. And they’re increasingly switching their purchases to ecommerce for all the conveniences it offers, the ease of price comparisons, and often the lower prices. This shift is a massive structural a change in the US economy. And each time a consumer gets frustrated in a run-down, out-of-merchandise, thinly staffed brick-and-mortar store, and then buys that thing online, since online you can get anything, the brick-and-mortar business has run off yet another customer, and this structural change takes another step forward.

But online retail is tough: Another overvalued money-losing unicorn in a lo-tech ho-hum business wobbled out the IPO window and crashed. Read... Shares of Bedding Unicorn Casper Collapsed by 72% from Magical Pre-IPO Valuation

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  183 comments for “Ecommerce Spikes by Most Ever. Brick & Mortar Melts Down. Department Stores are Toast

  1. Tony of CA says:

    EV are not even viable without subsidies. On top of that, our electric grid is a joke. The biggest threat to retail is customers with no money.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Apparently, those customers that are doing all this buying have plenty of money, either their own or borrowed money.

      • Trinacria says:

        …” or borrowed money”…what’s the old saying…”quick to borrow and slow to pay”. At some point – within the next 18 months, at the latest, I have to believe that the mountains of debt that permeate every corner and institution of society, will provide a hangover the world has never seen as this “thing” has just been pushed too far. This will also affect folks with very little debt but, who have not set aside enough to cover emergencies. Without a doubt, gird those loins !!! Less is truly more, but that truly goes on so many deaf ears !

      • GotCollateral says:

        >borrowed money

        AAPL is slangin credit now that that their CCP sponsored employees are popping coronas; They can join GS, JPM, BAC, HSBC, MS, C, WFC peddling trash in the streets (these 8 of 17 companies in the $ IG market make up nearly 20% of the current notional value of the market [~350 total]).

        Nothing for cornered dealers to do but sell trash or die tryin

      • Mark Maya says:

        So True!!!

    • Thomas Roberts says:

      The only thing not completely superior in every way about electric vehicles is the battery. They could be one breakthrough away from almost entirely replacing ICE cars. The subsidies they get is nothing compared to other wasted money, and can push EV’s towards that breakthrough.

      • Seneca's cliff says:

        Back in the early 20th century when electric cars were popular but gradually being replaced by I.C.E cars the electric car salesmen could be heard to say, ” but these are superior in every way to I.C.E cars except for the battery.” Most of them waited their entire lives for the battery breakthrough that would let their electro-mobiles become the dominant form of transportation.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          I seriously doubt, they said it like that. No one “very few” was looking for a better car battery for almost 100 years. So what you said is untrue. It’s now almost 100 years later and if private automobiles sales are to survive in most of the world; they have to either create a great biofuel possibly from something like algae or a better battery. Most of the countries in the world have almost no energy resources and instead of importing huge amounts of oil. Many of those countries will push towards public or shared transport, if a better biofuel or battery isn’t developed.

        • wkevinw says:

          Seneca’s cliff- Battery breakthroughs have been worked on for at least 100 years. I worked for a company that did such work. It is very difficult.

          The biggest thing in batteries was the development of Li batteries in the ’70s-90’s (recent history).

          Still, depending on your favorite measure, liquid hydrocarbon is about 5-30x more energy dense than the best batteries.

          EVs may get more market share, but will likely be a niche unless there is another battery breakthrough.

          I wouldn’t bet your money on that.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Yes, EV’s do require a breakthrough to become the default car. The difference between creating batteries for cars and everything else, is whether the battery is “good enough”. For almost everything except cars, “except maybe power grid storage” a better battery is nice, but not needed. Instead a small amount of companies have focused on batteries for everything from remote controlled cars to automatic sinks. But, they only needed “good enough” so instead of focusing on large breakthroughs they instead focus on more realistic incremental steps, because they need to stay in business. Cars need that more revolutionary battery.

          What we really need is large subsidies directly for battery development. Every skilled scientist that presents plausible ideas for new batteries should get a laboratory “practically funded with shared resources between them of course” to attempt their ideas. If they pull off any significant advancements, they get a bunch of money as a reward. The Tech they develop would be freely available to the public. Having a federal dept of battery development, could have enormous payoffs and be a far better use of public money, then ridiculous things like private jet tax breaks. And directly funding the scientists would be a lot cheaper than giving it to companies.

          Eliminating EV subsidies to give said money directly to the dept of battery development would be an acceptable way to start funding it. But, It should be funded enough to pursue every possible lead.

        • nhz says:

          In my country a major “Green” initiative is under development to battle CO2 and lately also nitrogen emissions. If you look at the effects of current subsidies, those for electric cars are probably by far the most INeffective ones: huge subsidies that mostly benefit rich EV buyers, with very little environmental benefit. In reality almost all EV’s over here still run on fossil fuel and have far above average (environmental) production and recycling cost; in the end they might do more harm than good. And many of them are really a “second” car which only means more consumption. The only real benefit is cleaner cities, but you only notice that when a large percentage of drivers switches to EV’s which isn’t realistic for now.

          Hauling a very heavy battery (compared to the average 1.2 or so persons in that car) is basically a stupid idea. If there is a huge improvement in battery technology things would look much better but despite many ongoing developments I see nothing in the pipeline that is a breakthrough. IMHO a better approach would be either fuel cells (but too expensive for now) or biofuels from algae (carbon-neutral), which could work with existing ICE technology. I was working on bio solar in the eighties, but our government killed the research because they thought subsidizing Shell Oil was far more promising … at least for the careers of the politicians.

          Whatever choice is made, we need to rethink transportation and encourage/improve public transport, car sharing and smaller, lighter cars instead of the current SUV trend – that would do a lot more now for energy use / emissions than the transition to EV’s.

        • char says:

          The weight of the battery or the weight of the fuel is not important. What is important is the whole designed as an EV car compared to a comparable ICE car. And the weight difference between those are not so great. Would even suspect that a 150 miles EV is lighter than an ICE. And there are still a lot of expected weight savings in Electric while ICE will gain weight to become more efficient.

          The biggest advantage EV have is that they change society. Driving a 1000 miles is possible with an EV but unpractical and if you are not going to use your car for long trips than the need for a large car is also smaller, or a car at all.

          EV lead to the outer areas, like Zeeland, to be even less viable and the inner areas to be even more dense.

        • nhz says:

          @char:
          of course the weight of the battery is very important, just not when you only care about comparing with traditional ICE cars. If you want to improve efficiency of transport, lower weight is the right place to start unless you can find and package unlimited free energy somewhere, in which case weight indeed doesn’t matter. And I’m not even talking about the extra road / bridge damage from all those heavy EV’s.

          Yes, EV’s can become better and lighter but the same is true for ICE cars. Look at car designs like the original Aptera that would be able to do over 100Mpg (there are even 300 Mpg designs), mostly thanks to lower weight, smaller size and removing some of the stuff we don’t really need. Far more efficient than almost any current EV, unless you can charge the EV from your own solar panel; in Netherlands that’s a realistic option for less than 1% of EV owners, maybe a bit more in the southern part of Zeeland …

          I doubt current EV’s have more weight savings potential than ICE cars, because many recent EV’s have already been designed to keep the weight down – because of the heavy battery. Only switching to fuel cells (or accepting much shorter range) will reduce weight significantly.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          nhz,

          Yes, the battery is heavy but the electric motor is light compared to the entire apparatus of an ICE are, including engine, transmission, cooling system, fuel system and fuel tank, intake system, exhaust system, starting system, etc. So here is the curb weight in US pounds of two vehicles in the same category. The Tesla range includes at the high end the two-motor model w. large battery

          Tesla Model 3: 3,552 to 4,100 lbs

          BMW 3 series: 3,582 to 3,764 lbs

        • char says:

          EV are at the moment in the horseless carriage phase so still a big weight saving possible by loosing the stuff ICE cars need and EV don’t. Electric engines are all first or maybe second generation designs, there is still a lot of fat.And batteries are still improving single digits percentages a year. With a battery that is a few kg per year less.
          ICE vehicles need to become hybrids to be fuel efficient enough to be sold in the EU. That means extra batteries/electric engines etc. In othr words extra weight.

          Fuel cell cars need fuel and fuel is much more expensive than electricity. So owners want a plugin fuel cell hybrid but that leads to problems with the fuel stations as they will have to little demand to operate

        • nhz says:

          @char:
          ICE’s run on fuel that is much more expensive than electricity that is powered by … the same or similar fossil fuel, in most of the world. Said otherwise, EV’s run primarily on subsidies.

          I agree about EV potential in the long run, and in the short run potential for some “niche” applications; but it solves very little for the next 10-20 years regarding CO2 emissions etc. despite the epic investment that is required. And if we talk about potential, the first step would be replacing the battery with a fuel cell.

          All of nature runs on fuel cells, not on batteries; I guess that tells you something.

        • urbane says:

          Some things which probably be considered is each conversion between different forms/levels of energy is not 100% efficient, including in AC transformers, so generates waste heat, also charging electrical batteries is often far more time consuming than gas or liquid transfer, and this can have financial and life costs. Maybe it would be smarter to manufacture chemical energy to fuel transportation, rather than electricity e.g. use a form of photosynthesis for solar, and kinetic/heat energy powered chemical energy production from wind/nuclear power, it may even be possible to generate Chemical energy from nuclear radiation, because a fungus has been discovered which does this.
          Ice engines can have significant Nitrogen oxide pollution costs at high combustion temperatures (e.g. “Lean Burn”), but this could be solved by removing Nitrogen from the intake air, or preferring use of manufactured oxidizer for high combustion temperatures.

      • Mean Chicken says:

        Given we have 12 years remaining till devastating consequences beset, should we party like it’s 1999 or immediately ban all forms of carbon and chlorine?

        • Sammy Iyer says:

          Talking about electricity renewables – India’s solar capacity has been installed a lot in the last 4 years ( next to china in Giga watts produced) . A Private solar co in the Rajastan desert is selling to the Govt electric grid below coal generated electricity price. (Indivual houses installing solar on roof top is still very rare . only industrial sized commercial set ups as 70% of the country receives blasting sun 9-10 months in a year )

        • polecat says:

          Well, little $t. Greta is in the process of receiving a patent on her moniker … right along with having her own TV show … so really, what’s the big hurry ?
          ‘;]

        • urbane says:

          That is Oligarch originated SJW and immoral opportunist pushed deception, to steer the narrative to steal yet more power; honest competent scientists disagree, both with obvious cherry-picked-data trends, and with incompetence and dishonest bias in some quoted climate models.

      • nick kelly says:

        A thing to keep in mind re: ICE- it is only carrying a small percentage of the components required for combustion. Unlike a rocket that must carry the oxidizer as well as the fuel, the ICE gets its oxidizer from the surrounding air. It takes a lot of more air than fuel, around 14.5 kilos of air per kilo of gasoline. The volume difference is huge. I haven’t worked it out but it looks in the area of a thousand to one.

        So air- hog ICE starts out with quite an advantage but you could say it gets it at the expense of other air breathing entities. It also renders the air it does use unusable for those entities. The air consumed by a human is re-breathable up to a point. The exhaled air has some oxygen removed and some CO 2 added but it’s not poisoned like the CO from an ICE.

        • NBay says:

          The key to making EV work is regenerative braking…..

          AND…. a 50 mph speed limit and smaller lighter cars and homes, but that’s anti-American and to be summarily disregarded as “impossible”.

          Natural resource pigs on a ball in space don’t last long, but the 40-60% of us that plan to live forever don’t care.

    • VeryAmused says:

      You apparently did not get the memo.

      Let me summarize it for you.

      “We are all rich now dog!!!” – The Jerome

    • Bookdoc says:

      My daughter is an electrical engineer. She said our current grid MIGHT be able to handle 2 superchargers per block square. Otherwise will overload the system.
      One note from my old days as a car salesman-the trade. Yes, you can buy cars online more or less I was the Internet Sales Manager before retiring) but most customers will have a trade and they almost always have a higher idea of value than the vehicle actually has.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Bookdoc,

        Your daughter may be an electrical engineer, but well, here we go… EVs are being mostly charged at home at NIGHT when the grid has huge idle capacity.

        ALL utilities love EVs. In the US, the problem that electric utilities have is the long-term stagnation of electricity sales, and the continued increase in capacity and capital expenditures:

        https://wolfstreet.com/2020/01/15/us-demand-for-electricity-declined-in-2019-stagnated-for-a-decade-but-2020-capacity-additions-are-wild/

        Utilities have been hoping for years that the mass-arrival of EVs would boost electricity sales in the residential segment, as EV owners would begin utilizing the enormous and costly “idle capacity” of the grid and power generation in the middle of the night to charge up their EVs in their garages.

        EVs are going to solve a huge problem for utilities: reducing this enormous and costly idle capacity at night. But this hoped-for growth in revenues from the arrival of EVs, and the increased capacity utilization at night they’d bring, has been, for utilities, frustratingly slow in coming.

        • EE says:

          I think the key word here is “superchargers” – the electrical engineer is correct, it doesn’t matter whether the far-away-generator can supply the power, day or night, it matters whether the local infrastructure can handle the current. With superchargers running at maybe 500kW – 1MW (yes that is 1 million watts of power) then it doesn’t take many superchargers to massively overload the local wiring system. I suspect that adding 2MW of load to a city block would be an issue. That’s before we start to think about the astoundinlgy terrible state of infrastructure in the USA.

          https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/energy/

        • Wolf Richter says:

          EE,

          You didn’t get the point. And you don’t know how utilities work. So let me explain it to you: first the point that you didn’t get and then second how utilities work so you can stop throwing around red herrings.

          The point was: even if there are two supercharges per block there is not a lot of demand for them. Most people charge up at home, which is one of the big reasons for buying an EV in the first place. There is a charging station down the street here, with several superchargers, and it’s often empty, and very rarely full.

          Yup, the charging station with several superchargers works fine even when it’s full because it’s got its own new underground powerline to it.

          You see, utilities love to sell electricity because that’s their business. When a new multistory building goes up, the utility installs a new power line to it from one of its major lines some blocks away, and the utility may upgrade those major lines to handle an area with a high-rise construction boom, free of charge to the building owners. In San Francisco, these new lines are underground. It’s a big investment that will be recouped over the years by increased sales of electricity.

          That’s how a utility’s business model works.

          So if you want to install 10 superchargers on a corner lot, you get with the utility during the planning stages, and it will install an appropriate power line to it (in SF it will likely be underground) free of charge to you, to supply sufficient power. And then it will happily charge you for the electricity you use. That’s how the utility makes money. That’s how it works – whether you’re putting up a 30-story office building or a condo tower or a supercharger station.

          People keep throwing out these red herrings. But look at reality and see how new projects are ACTUALLY being done right now in big cities. And it works just fine.

        • Old-school says:

          My daughter and husband are both utility grid engineers in NC. I think your above summary does not align with reality here. Could be a good area to research further. Two examples are generation and distribution are two different things. Here peak loading in winter is late at night. In summer late afternoon.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Old-school,

          See my reply to EE above. It specifically addresses distribution. This is happening every day. There is a high-rise construction boom going on in SF, and all these towers are all being hooked up to new power lines that the utility installs (underground) for them, and these new power lines can go for blocks if necessary, and they’re connected to a major power line that can handle it, and the utility is loving it. The supercharging station down the street here, with several superchargers, also got its own power line (underground).

        • Brant Lee says:

          If EV technology becomes mainline feasible, wouldn’t it be better if electric utilities actually also use gasoline (oil products) while affordable, to produce power since they could control pollution more and get maximum fuel efficiency?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Brant Lee,

          Power generators use lots of natural gas, which is the cheapest and most efficient hydrocarbon fuel available for power generation, thanks to a technological innovation that went mainstream in the 1990s: the “combined-cycle gas turbine,” which can run with a thermal efficiency of over 65%. Plus, US natural has is incredibly cheap.

        • What if homeowners bought battery backups and used the lower rates at night to charge their batteries against outages and offset higher day use rates? Seems like home backup battery technology is farther along than the EV battery.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Ambrose Bierce,

          I have a counter-question: how much would you spend to overcome 12 hours of power-outage a year? How much to overcome 24 hours? Etc. Those are tough to answer.

          I run my business out of the home. So revenues depend on having power. Here in SF the outages are relatively short, and basic battery backups and laptops and an alternate internet access system get me through it. And that’s all I use. But if I lived out in the country, and if I had to deal with 3-day power-outages regularly, I would have to seriously look at spending money on some backup system.

        • Erle says:

          The increase in home garage charged EVs should be bullish for makers of firetrucks and homebuilders.

        • char says:

          Can the typical home mains connection deliver enough power for a super charger. If not you need a more expensive connection. How many people would install a supercharger if their bill would go up significant. I think most/all would keep the normal night to recharge the battery setup instead of the 30 minutes charger.

          EV have this big advantage that their owners don’t care if their car is re-charged this second. They care if their car is re-charged in the morning or over an hour so the recharging can be stopped during peak moments. This can save utilities a lot of money

      • robt says:

        Every activity that takes place is a function of economics and technology. If it makes economic sense, then it happens.
        There was a whale oil crisis in the mid-19th Century; we were going to run out, and how would we light our lamps. Then the oil business, and refining, happened.
        Then electricity happened, and that lit the lights. But DC wouldn’t efficiently travel More Than a Block. Then AC happened.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        Bookdoc,

        Homes will almost always have slow chargers, only gas stations and select few people “i.e. taxi drivers” need the superchargers. Once a car has a 300+ mile range, very few people will drive that much in a day. Most people will get home with their battery at 70% every day and then overnight, when the grid has the most excess energy that goes to waste, their cars will be topped off. Also spare capacity can be generated from improving the energy efficiency of homes.

    • Is there ANY topic that doesn’t stir up EV hate? Can you think of anything else that’s “not even viable without subsidies”? Maybe… OIL? You’re from CA. Take a critical look at the oil distro network. I’ve worked in petroleum for a company that nets billions from those brand-name oil-spills. How’s THAT for a grid? Joke?

      • Tony of CA says:

        We are having on going black outs in Northern Ca. Again, our grid is joke which is largely powered by fossil fuel.

        • Well… you are right. Our grid IS a joke. As CA’s blackouts show (and have shown for as long as anyone can remember), the future isn’t “the grid”, improved or not, it’s in diversified, decentralized production by municipality, neighborhood and household, not by state or region. One man’s not-so-humble, off-topic opinion.

    • char says:

      EV don’t run on oil. That alone will be a very big reason to make EV work. Maybe not in the US but it will be in China, EU, Korea & Japan. EV + 100% imported coal or gas is cheaper than an ICE and its oil seen from a trade balance perspective.

      Also the cheapest Tesla is already below the average new car price and Dacia EV will be cheap. Even without subsidies

      • farang says:

        Question: how long do the batteries in the average EV last? And what is the replacement cost?

        I’m guessing an America where 40% of the citizens have less than $400 in savings might be hard-pressed to purchase expensive batteries for their EV.

        Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the technology is now here to supply long-lasting and inexpensive to replace EV batteries?

    • Leslie says:

      Speaking of EV/energy – the big elephant in the room is how the distribution endpoint delivery piece in ecommerce translates into exponentially higher energy consumption and GG emissions. The disconnect: it is the young people going 100% online delivery and it is the young people demanding absolute reductions in GG emissions!!!!

    • upside says:

      I’m not sure why the EV comments are appearing under the “ecommerce spikes” story but I’m wondering in which bucket the online orders picked up at the store fall into, e-commerce or brick and mortar? I also think swapping between percentage growth and total dollar growth is a little sketchy when talking about growth. Should stick to percentages.

      A big part of the brick and mortar story is the decline in malls and to a lesser extent the decline of brick and mortar in general. The Walmarts and Targets are doing just fine with omni-channel. So much so that Amazon may be forced to change their approach to retail at some point.

  2. RD Blakeslee says:

    perhaps as a subcategory of online “convenience”: Autonomy of purchasing – no need to subject oneself to the presence of other people.

    This trend is seen in other human activities – entertainment is increasingly in the home instead of, e,g, theaters and nightclubs.

    • elkern says:

      Bowling Alone.

      Humans are social animals; isolation is unhealthy. Owning things is a poor substitute for Community.

      • VeryAmused says:

        Is it okay if I sit alone and get my “community” through the internet or does that not sit well with your view of human behavior?

        Face to face human contact is overrated and fraught with its own issues.

        ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ – Eminem (/wink)

        • roddy6667 says:

          there’s a word for getting your community second or third hand through the Internet. It’s called isolation.

        • Steve M says:

          That’s a great expression.
          I would only add to young Eminem’s observation that all human awkwardness shows in the inability to sit quietly – together (nod).
          Why the older Eminem might be telling him right now as we speak!
          But since this is a business-economics site, I’ll note that its said that any communication regardless of mode is ultimately transactional.
          In which case, the elementary life experience in any interaction – from sales to personal – is discovering what you want.
          Once you establish that, the actual exchange becomes easy!

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          Face-to-face contact is for people that can’t live with themselves.

      • nhz says:

        sometimes isolation can be more healthy, like in CoV times ;(

  3. Pilgrim says:

    I prefer the hybrid model – Order online and pickup in store.
    Recently looking for an internal pipe tap. None at local stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc) not even at a large plumbing supply. It was just a standard 1/2″ NPT tap.
    I gave up and searched online. Plenty choices out there. Ordered from Home Depot website to pick up at nearby store. Very convenient. Forget the hunting around with a car. It seems Home Depot has same prices as Amazon?
    So less inventory in local stores, but easily remedied with internet.

    • Paulo says:

      Just ordered (today) $2700 of commercial greenhouse materials. Ordered online, discussed the project and purchase with the sole owner/employee for the quote, will pick up and pay cash which he discounted to me the CC levy. No deposit required. It is a virtual handshake and a telephone connection purchase. This was after conducting online searches of three different major suppliers.

      I thought it was interesting a small owner/operator wholesaler could connect with someone almost 200 miles away who lives in the boonies. The service was personal (by phone), very rapid, and the product is exactly what I needed for a cheaper price than what large suppliers offer. It is already put away on a pallet for my pickup in two weeks. A bonus is the vendor’s location is in the town I grew up in, so will piggyback a few visits with family on the way home.

      • Nice. If only that were the norm online! I’m always pleased when I find a new online shop that isn’t Amazon.

        • cas127 says:

          “Not Amazon”

          Slowly over the last three or four years, Amazon has gotten less price competitive – as they try to hike their historically pretty small profit margin.

          Smaller, more focused online players are now routinely beating them on price – in the long run I think Amazon is going to use product scope and its insane warehouse network to justify higher-than-competitors prices.

          I think that will leave a lot of room for Walmart, which still seems pretty committed to low prices.

      • Sammy Iyer says:

        @Paulo
        Ref commercial green house- what are you growing?
        how are you able to market produce ?( to super markets/ yourself via Farmer markets)..
        Last year I seriously researched to start a hydrophonic set up for growing lettuce/colour capsicum etc ( rare western vegetables consumed by the high income population in big metros)
        But due to over population in my country , even unproductive land prices are so high (even in remote areas too far from any dirt roads/high ways) so i dropped the idea.

    • Sammy Iyer says:

      Steve M
      you are correct . In the good old days (1987-1997 ) I have done millions of $ Import-Export transactions only via FAX . Telephone calls were rare only for emergencies.
      Booking big quantities of forex for impex trade (spot & leveraged were done on phone & faxed confirmations to banks)
      In the initial days of online I used online personally only for non material transactions. (hotel booking, airline, car rentals etc ).
      Later after Becoming an 3rd party online seller selling to indivuals (compared to my whole sale trade with big business’s earlier)with all major ecom portals since 2012 & selling to 1000’s of mom & pop customers daily/weeklymonthly & self execution /shipping (via own DHL/Fedex ) , Now Iam very comfortable online &do personal shopping including grocery online (only if it is cheaper than physical stores). Internet commerce is the future.The reach to millions of customers is addictive.

      • Juanfo says:

        EV + ecomm are reducing oil demand and will continue to do so. Peak oil could already be past us.

    • Alister says:

      Wondering who is categorizing the sale figures. Two situations for me in the last 2 years.

      My TV quit, so I went to a Best Buy store to look around and see an actual TV screen operating. Found a TV in my price range and said I wanted it. They didn’t have it but would have it delivered to me. They went to a computer and ordered it for me. It looked like their website. Get this – my 42″ TV came by postal service 2 days later. Was that considered a store sale or an e-commerce sale?

      Then my 10 year old laser printer quit. I order a new one from Staples online but picked it up at the store because it’s close by. Is that a e-commerce sale, or a store sale? The store did the physical handling.

      So, I was at both brick and mortar stores, but were the sales considered B&M?

      • Wolf Richter says:

        A sale that originates on the internet is considered ecommerce not matter how it ended up in your house, who delivered it, or if you did the “last mile” yourself by picking it up at some location, such as a store or a locker.

        • Jessy S says:

          Wolf,

          I think item pickups should have their own category, or at least subcategory. This isn’t pure e-commerce because the pickup might have originated with the seller at a lumber yard where they ordered a part off the internet for the customer. And lets not forget everyone who ordered groceries and picked them up. That is what accounts for the massive increase in the graph.

    • NBay says:

      What is a “an internal pipe tap”?
      Thanks.

  4. David Hall says:

    They might turn malls into high density condos. They are already zoned commercial.

    I have a Hawaiian shirt. People asked me where I bought it. I do not know. Looked for a second Hawaiian shirt online. There were dozens to choose from in synthetic, cotton or silk. There were many patterns. I did not buy one. Better than walking around a mall for an hour and not buying one.

    • Nat says:

      “They are already zoned commercial.”

      To become high density condos they would need to be rezoned as residential. Not to suggest that is hard, just that there is no “its ready to go” like you suggest.

      Additionally while converting malls into high density condos will work for some malls close to city centers or interesting things to leave near, most malls are way out in the burbs or even the exurbs because land was cheap enough to construct these monstrosities. No one wants to live in high density condos in the middle of nowhere. People will live way out in the burbs or exurbs if they can have more space to themselves and people will cram themselves into high density condos if they have the convenience of being right down town, but the desire to cram oneself into high density condos in the middle of nowhere has yet to be demonstrated and I find it unlikely for the foreseeable future.

      • NBay says:

        How about if it’s located close to a big wind or solar farm and occupied by the maintenance employees and those who work in businesses, schools, etc supported by them?

        • char says:

          They are not big employers. No need for high rise

        • NBay says:

          No high rise. A good old fashioned abandoned mall will work just fine. They are everywhere and usually surrounded by a lot of land with decaying and abandoned homes and factories.

      • Juanfo says:

        You would have to pay the land value in bribes just to get the land rezoned.

        • NBay says:

          During WW2 there were no such problems if it interfered with the war effort. We are now at war for survival, or should be.
          I think part of the problem is too many people who plan on living forever, and don’t really care about the future. About 40-60% in this unfortunate country.

    • Ripp says:

      If by “turn malls into” you mean raze to the ground and build from scratch, then yes. Around here, they are tearing them down and building what’s basically a shopping center/strip mall with condos/apartments on top. That way, you get your Uber Eats cheeseburger slightly warmer because it came from downstairs rather than down the street…

      • roddy6667 says:

        In China, the high-rises where most people live have retail on the first 1-3 floors. The retail is joined together and forms the wall for the gated community. This provides all kinds of retail that people need/want close by.

        • Stephen Cavaliere says:

          Same here in Malaysia. It takes me 6 minutes to get from my apartment to the grocery store. Lots of online delivery of food but it’s fast food and that’s not for me.

        • char says:

          1 floor in Spain of apartment buildings is not used to live in. I have been total because of legal reasons. But they often are boarded up and from the way they look from day one.

    • Cas127 says:

      Condos/apts would reduce insane rents…wonder why the conversions from mall to residential have not already happened.

      Probably zoning/political impediments – zoning waiver bribes are probably why 70 pct of local politicians go into politics…

      “Commercial” zoning is very distinct from residential and has plenty of restrictive sub-categories – the are a lot of wealthy vested interests that fight to the end against any wholesale changes to zoning rules (waivers are grudgingly accepted as graft for pols).

      To name just one vested interest against sensible rezoning – incumbent condo and apt complex owners – any new supply cuts into their profits

      • nhz says:

        Yes, same story over here in Netherlands. Everything related to RE and zoning is road to riches for local politicians. In one generation our land prices have gone up more than 100x thanks to zoning. Farm land that is worth about 2.5 EUR/m2 economically (that’s for the best land you could find, a large chunk is worth even less) easily costs 1000-2000 EUR/m2 now when you can build a home on it :(

        All of politics and many of the wealthier citizens have the same interest of pushing up land and home prices even more – with starters and renters getting most of the bill. In recent years conversions of office buildings to homes are increasing (last year over 5% of total production) but only thanks to huge subsidies for the developers. And it often results in very small apartments with very high cost per square meter, despite less desirable location.

        • Cas127 says:

          Here in Las Vegas (in the middle of utterly barren desert for *hundreds* of miles around, every adjacent point on the compass has amazingly been found to be worthy of “protected” status by Fed/State/or Local gvts…each in different directions for different reasons.

          20 years ago, 80 pct was empty, worthless, completely unprotected land – subsequently discovered to be “priceless” for very, very vague reasons.

          There are still channelized avenues of development left (three guesses as to owns *that* land…) but 80 pct of the surrounding “donut” has been removed from supply (Google map it).

          As with many other things, people have very little idea just how thoroughly gvt has been gamed to serve insiders interest.

        • nhz says:

          @Cas127:
          in Netherlands developers with political connections (often big companies) have been buying “zebra stripes” in the land surrounding cities for decades, while most of that land is still owned by farmers. The law says that if the government changes zoning for these areas, they have to negotiate with the owners (even if it is just a small strip) and offer them the first right to development (or something close to that, don’t know the exact rules). Which means that basically these developers have far out of the money call options on almost all Dutch residential land sales, including the RE that gets build on it. Often the developers make all the money on the land sales and very little money (5-10%) on the real estate itself; the home is some kind of extra you get with the land. Farmers officially can’t sell land to others for anything else than agricultural use; however, they can team up with corrupt lawyers and politicians and become instant multi-millionaires when local zoning rules are changed. One common tactic is predating “private contracts” to a date before the city council decided to build in a specific area.

          Several farmers near my city have pocketed 10-50 million euro for relatively small plots over the last 25 years, which is a huge amount of money compared to what they could ever make by farming the same plot for their whole life … even worse, none of this land has been build on yet, the city has crushing debt and very little chance of population growth if you exclude those who get housing and everything else for free. They have been postponing bankruptcy with funny accounting for years. But a few well-connected individuals made loads of money, so who cares ;(

  5. Goose says:

    Want to know what drives it – Inventory Taxes. No B&M store can afford to keep stock that does not turn fast enough to pay the associated taxes. If you keep something that sells infrequently you could be taxed more than the eventual sales price. If you have a chain you may have to stock the item at many locations and pay everywhere. So at a central warehouse you can drop the inventory for slow movers to a level that makes it pay. It is also why you cannot get repair parts for appliances you purchase. No one can afford to keep them. This also why most returns are thrown in the garbage – to keep off the books so taxes are not inflated.

    So who is responsible for the decline of main street, easy the taxing authority. Licences, permits, multiple taxing levels, compliance with local, state, and federal codes all set up the decline of any business.

    • Nat says:

      Rents contribute to this far more than taxes do. That isn’t to say taxes don’t hurt a lot as well, but if you look which has gone up most over the last two decades, land taxes or rents, you find it is the rents that have really put on the squeeze and taxes haven’t changed anywhere near as much.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Companies get taxed on inventory where you live? Wow! I mean, not even in California do we get taxed on inventory, though we get taxed every time we blink an eye.

      • Root Farmer says:

        Usually in the form of business property tax (all states) once a year (on 12/31) for business assets including inventory. Hence the ads for end of the year sales to drive any remaining holiday season inventory as low as possible. Typically not taxed at a very high rate in comparison to other expenses. Sounds like another “all problems stem from the big bad guvment” claim. High in emotion, devoid of fact. More detail in link.

        https://taxfoundation.org/2020-state-business-tax-climate-index/

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Root Farmer,

          Here are the (few) states that tax business inventories. Most of them don’t, including California – though those states may tax real property (such as equipment):

          https://taxfoundation.org/does-your-state-tax-business-inventory/

        • Root Farmer says:

          Interesting. Your thoroughness has identified the weakness of my statement. I run a small business in NC, have for many years. As you pointed out, inventory is NOT taxed at the state level, I mis-spoke. We are taxed for business property, including inventory, at the county level. Only 50 states, but thousands of county and municipal authorities.

          Thank you for taking the time to follow up on my post. I always learn new things here. You have attracted a number of well informed contributors.

      • Bill says:

        California doesn’t tax inventory but all major California Counties tax personal business property: inventory, equipment, supplies, etc.

      • Bet says:

        Wolf. In Texas we were taxed on not only inventory but office furnishings
        The tax person came in my shop and inventoried what they wanted to
        Tax. I would have rather paid a state tax than Texas taxes. Property tax. Car tax As a property owner we were taxed three times. But if a corporation leased. No taxes
        Washington state taxes your gross not net. Yikes

    • roddy6667 says:

      This biggest cost of holding inventory is the cost of buying it and storing it. Taxes are a small part of the equation. That’s why manufacturing changed to the just-in-time method right after WWII.

  6. Steve M says:

    Hey man. Either No. 9 of the top ten ecommerce outifts is named ” “, intentionally blank or my mind is. Could you fill in the blank but if not, could you sell me some?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Costco. That’s funny… some formatting seems to have gone haywire. Fixed it.Thanks.

      • Iamafan says:

        I bought two laptops from Costco very recently. Despite their sprawling displays, they did not have everything their wen web site said they had. So, I had to order the models I wanted online while at the store. What a waste of time standing at the store if you can’t touch and feel something before you buy. Lesson learned, if it ain’t fresh food just go online. You can return it free anyway

  7. Old-school says:

    I saw an article that the current bubble is an e-commerce bubble and is getting close to the 2000 tech bubble in valuation. I haven’t researched it but a lot of the e-commerce business models don’t seem durable. Common mistake is to overpay for growth in a new technology, but eventually growth rate has to slow as total market gets consumed.

    I guess some people use rule of thumb that current cash flow yield plus sustainable growth rate is estimate of future return. Once you hit a trillion dollar market cap growth rate is going to have to slow over the next decade I would think.

    • Babu butt says:

      That is totally incorrect

    • Zantetsu says:

      How in the WORLD are e-commerce business models not durable?

      • polecat says:

        Ok .. let’s talk ‘durable’..

        When a virus with a verrrry long incubation period (weeks!), while simultaneously having hours to days of viability on surfaces .. be they carbon-based or otherwise,
        well .. That kinda of setting might tip E-commerce into the ditch. Guess we’ll all have a ring-side seat for coming subtractions.

      • Old-school says:

        Let’s say a company has a 1 trillion market cap and 4 or 5 do. If it grows at 23% it’s going to be at 2 trillion in 3 years and 4 trillion in 6 years. Not going to happen.

        • Cas127 says:

          Old School,

          Correct – most of FANG (except for Google maybe) are trading at PEs that imply growth rates far in excess of what these companies can achieve – given their size already – unless you assume that in 15 yrs they will have sales in excess of US GDP…

        • nhz says:

          you are underestimating how many pets and bots Facebook c.s. can still add to the network. They don’t pay and hopefully don’t buy, but who cares?
          ;)

      • Old-school says:

        Buying things on a phone is easy, but some businesses will get weeded out.

        I am not sure buying a sofa on line is a good business model if the return rate is high for example.

        Not sure buying a used car on line is a good business model.

        Same goes for buying produce on-line.

        I buy my eye glasses on line from zenni. I love it. It’s a good business model.

        • nhz says:

          What I hear from most smaller retailers who have a webshop is that the online sales are good for increasing volume (often a necessity to stay in business) but with basically zero margin. Quite different from how it was 20 years ago and not promising in the long run for most. I guess some of the smaller shops might survive though when the crunch starts for big e-tailers with way too much debt (that’s most of them I guess).

          Don’t know about used cars, but I recently noticed some good initiatives for online sales of used computers. Probably easier than cars because wear and tear is a smaller factor and easier to test if things are functioning. Advantage of online sales can be that it’s easier to check customer satisfaction; used car salesmen don’t exactly have a good reputation but some of the shops who sell used computer gear seem to do very well (and it’s good for the environment to give gear a second life, as long as it doesn’t encourage people to buy power-hungry computers instead of recent low power laptops).

        • Ripp says:

          @nhz
          Our online B2C site is the complete opposite. Online we can charge a higher margin and get payment upfront. Our brick & mortar location deals mostly with B2B, so smaller margins and payment terms. An online order goes directly into our fulfillment system, so no salesperson has to touch it. There is no back and forth, no negotiation on price, no manual entry to get the order entered.

  8. Thomas Roberts says:

    Right now online sales are small enough that is doesn’t effect all the prices of their B&M counterparts. Once a certain threshold level has been reached I would expect Walmart, Target, and other stores to change their strategy do better compete, until that point, they would only compete in certain sections like electronics.

    I also expect electronics, one of amazons biggest sections, to decline in total revenue as electronics begin to run out of yearly improvements, no new changing cables/battery banks standards and the like, and the switch to digital items “like digital video games and streaming music/video services”.

    One of Amazon’s advantages over B&M is having limitless shelf-space to display items, B&M stores are watching and will find out what items they need to stock in store.

    Grocery sales “by far the most important shopping item, that will also over time become a bigger and bigger part of the shopping pie”, I see as staying primarily B&M.

    For everything else, most people will prefer to see what they are buying in store and getting it immediately, new packaging and more display models may be designed in order to better accomplish this.

    Overall, I would say Walmart and Target are in a better position than Amazon. I would much rather own 1% of Walmart than Amazon “assuming I have to own long term, and cannot sell immediately”.

    • Zantetsu says:

      How are Walmart and Target in a better position than Amazon?

      I can’t think of any way other than having the albatross of brick and mortar locations hanging around their necks. And that’s not better unless you think that brick and mortar locations have long term value, which I do not.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        I would say that very soon consumer electronics will peak, there will be very little further innovation. Instead of preordering the newest phone/laptop you will just buy replacements when your current device dies. Also as a result of that the prices “especially on phones will plummet. You will also have to buy less new cords and accessories for that phone. When your current device dies, will you wait a day or 2 to order that new phone online for $10 cheaper that you have to pay a subscription fee to get at that speed or buy it immediately at Walmart?

        I also think that we are in a peak stuff era. Meaning that people are losing enthusiasm for buying more household goods all the time. Also for some specific household goods and many other specific items amazon sold them and popularized them, but now B&M store sell them too. USB battery banks took off online “they did exist in stores first”; but, now local stores carry a variety of them.

        Overall, I think the overwhelming bulk of retail purchases and revenue in the future are going to be groceries, clothes, and one time use household goods “i.e. soap, TP, paper plates, and much more”. Can Amazon sell groceries with the same variety cheaper, that will be a big question. Most people will always prefer clothes shopping in person, and disposable household goods will always sell better in store.

        So what’s left for Amazon? They haven’t had any notable success selling furniture/bath tubs or anything like that. I wouldn’t trust them for appliances or many other things “they have a severe counterfeiting problem”. Their prices on furniture are worse than others. What happens if Amazon’s revenue drops 50% will those large investments in distribution centers and their own shipping services become a burden? If/can they downsize, will they still have 2 day shipping?

        I do think furniture and appliances sales could become mainly online. There is also speciality items like Displates “they are like posters, but printed on metal” that will have their own stores and ship through the mail, UPS, and Fedex. But, Amazon just isn’t needed. It might be replaced by the new smaller amazon “someone else” with no subscription fees that sells those random specialty items through the mail, and doesn’t have it’s own distribution system.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          After shopping online thoroughly, we ended up buying all new kitchen appliances at Lowes 4 yrs back, except fridge a month earlier at Sears because they had an exclusive model my wife preferred.. Lowes had a policy of either they were low, or would go 10% lower than any advertised price. Not sure about today.
          When the amazing place starts charging taxes on everything, it will slow down their sales considerably; even today, local B&M appear to be pricing according to what is on line, and you can get the touchy/feely BEFORE buying, instead of the regret later.
          In small town TN a few years back, there were several local retailers, including farmer’s coop that beat walsmart ALL the time on most products, if they were even at the wall place.
          I really don’t think B&M retail is dying; just, as always changing shape.

        • Erle says:

          VintageVN vet, My wife is out shopping at a B+M appliance store right now. They have better price than the big box store and the sales floor people are very patient and willing to do a lot more in showing their stock and order options than HD or Lowe’s.
          Previous buys from them went well and they delivered and took the old stuff without damaging anything. I have store loyalty.
          As you say, there is a place for well run businesses that cater to the customer. I cannot imagine the hassle of buying a refrigerator unseen from a website.

      • WES says:

        Zantetsu:. One thing Walmart has are grocery stores which sort of acts as a hedge. My Walmart probably does about half of it’s sales in groceries if I had to guess.

        P.S. Robt and I replied to your query in previous thread about all those commas!

      • cas127 says:

        Z,

        Where do you buy your bananas?

        Are you getting ground beef online?

        Does your milk come in the mail?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Ha, when I was a kid, we got milk delivered every day :-]

          And I have been mail-ordering steaks long before there was an internet. This stuff is not new, what’s new is the platform for ordering.

        • Sammy Iyer says:

          My UHT Milk (Long life Ultra High Treated) 500 ml milk carton (buy 11+1 free ) carton comes via mail !
          ( I mean door delivered by Amazon/Walmart’s Flipkart )
          Usually along with other dry groceries on offer (always with some kind of discount coupon. Grocery Prices to order online should be cheaper than B&M super markets as a rule)
          I stay near a big Vegetables whole sale market. So veggies & fresh fruits I buy in that market.

        • Cas127 says:

          Wolf, et Al,

          Dry grocery goods will be competitive online (although we will see just how long free shipping lasts for heavy canned items) but anything in the cold chain (refrigerated, frozen) or fresh, is going to have a hard sell (the well heeled Ketos living off Omaha Steaks notwithstanding…).

          I think the raw chicken, frozen pizza, and plum markets are safe for a while…even with Amazon’s huge warehouse network and hugely expensive last-mile delivery costs.

          (Which also raises a question about Amazon lockers…how comfortable are people going to be getting their raw meat out of shared bus station fixtures…).

          I am a fan of online (if increasingly less so of price hikin’ Amazon) but there is a huge chunk of the huge food mkt that is not well suited to online sales.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          I always heard grocery stores make money on dry food and lose money on refrigerated and frozen food. Amazon makes no money on the store side even after charging a membership fee. I don’t think Amazon can be competitive, because if they actually did take a big chunk of the market Wal-Mart would change their approach. Instead every B&M store would lower dry food prices and raise refrigerated and frozen prices. Also right now Wal-Mart makes money, Amazon breaks even, so Wal-Mart if absolutely necessary, would make nothing on groceries before giving it up to Amazon. Right now, while they are growing, online sales aren’t yet big enough to change B&M behavior in certain departments like groceries.

        • Zantetsu says:

          Sammy Iyer, you *like* UHT milk? Ugh I can’t stand the taste. Tastes cooked, and very non-fresh. Glad you like it though, it’s certainly a more convenient way to buy and store milk – no refrigeration needed (until opened)!

          I find it insidious how some grocery stores put UHT milk in the fridge section “as if it were fresh milk”, even when it doesn’t need to be there. Means I have to read packaging carefully. Annoying.

    • char says:

      Walmart are if i understand correctly hypermarkets. AKA a very big supermarket + a small collection of mall stores in one. People stop buying in the mall part of the hypermarket and they pass a supermarket on the way to the Hypermarket. The mall part is loss making and the supermarket part can’t compete with the closer supermarket. I don’t think Walmart has a great future ahead of them. It is IMHO the reason why the French hypermarkets are doing so badly

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        I really doubt groceries are the only section Walmart makes money on “I think that’s what you said”. I would be pretty surprised if the clothing sections “over a third of the store”, pharmacy, and that whole personal care “soaps, hair dye, and the like” sections didn’t make money. Most sections probably make money, some might break even, some stuff loses money. Even Amazon though has stuff that loses money.

        Europe is a whole different ballgame, their cities are laid out very differently so B&M vs Online might affect them differently. Japan for instance, I remember does very little online shopping, because it’s all big cities. In Japan you can find everything in local stores throughout the city. Europe is in between America and Japan “average city size wise”. But, it’s important to remember that big city vs small city has a very big impact on B&M vs Online.

  9. Mean Chicken says:

    Considering the poor quality of many finished goods, shopping brick and mortar simply adds insult to injury.

    For example, why pay $60 for a cheesy plastic, featureless toaster when the identical item can be had online at 1/3 the price?

    • Thomas Roberts says:

      Toasters aren’t that much in store, but Amazon has a very big counterfeiting problem, even for little known brands, buying appliances online isn’t usually cheaper if you shop around at places like Lowes. Online appliances can be dangerous, because of those counterfeits and a lack of safety testing.

      Furniture online can a lot cheaper and better quality though. There are a lot of other items with better quality online, but, I would always be very careful with certain things like appliances.

  10. Olivier says:

    What is the rationale behind inventory taxes? That seems to me like the infamous window tax (the tax on windows in buildings that some countries had at one point): taxation for the sake of taxation.

    • elkern says:

      I think “Inventory Taxes” are a result of “Wealth Taxes”. We have this in CT. I understand the appeal of Wealth Taxes (decline of Progressive Taxation since Reagan is one of the big reasons everything is getting worse), but it turns out that taxing physical assets is ridiculously complicated.

      For example: the company I work for stores equipment owned by our customers on-site; once a year, we have to report the “value” of those assets (inventory…) to the State, who presumably tries to tax the owners, who are mostly huge out-of-state Corps. I suspect the results are mixed at best. For us, it’s a headache. OK, here’s a Tool which originally cost $7K, 13 years ago, but it was refurbished 4 years ago at $3K; what’s it “worth”?

      On a more personal note, I don’t mind paying Car Tax (based on Model & Age of car). But do I need to declare my living room rug as an “asset”? If so, what’s it worth? (it really ties the room together…)

    • J7915 says:

      The salt tax was an incentive to use the barrel of salt the king made you buy…plenty of sauerkraut in Prussian, because MIC.

    • Mikey says:

      You can hide your profits by increasing inventory. In nj, I had to pay state income tax on the increase in value of my inventory each year.

  11. Petunia says:

    The only brick and mortar shopping that’s fun these days are the shops in touristy places. Otherwise, it’s the same stuff everywhere, might as well shop online, every store has a website. I never thought I would take to it, but I have, never went out for Xmas shopping this past year.

    Online is easy, they tell you if it’s in stock and show you the range of choices for the item. There are apps that notify you if there’s a price change or an item is restocked. So far, haven’t had a problem returning anything. I miss the way BM shopping used to be, but it’s not the same anymore, so have to move on.

    • I think that’s an important thing you brought up. People DO like to get out, just not to all of the lifeless, replaceable, far-flung big boxes we’ve created.

  12. Willy Winky says:

    Are all retailers that have an online strategy losing money on the online business?

    If so, then are the committing suicide?

    • char says:

      They are also making a loss on offline without resizing their B&M business. The online business has a low margin and the investments you have to make with big growth push it into loss. Steady state looks to be profitable

  13. DanS86 says:

    Why shop in a store when the help is crap and inventory a mess? Nordstrom near me does a good job of in-store experience like Boston Store and others used to do but the good clothes with natural fabrics are $$$$. Remember knowledgeable employees on the floor?

  14. R2D2 says:

    In the UK, which is ahead of the US, there are signs now that online shopping is peaking.

    Online was 19.3% of all UK retail shopping in Dec 2019, falling to 19.0% in Jan 2020.

    The worst for mall retailers could be over.

    • Zantetsu says:

      In what way is the UK ahead of the US when it comes to online retail?

      If you think online will ever give up precentage to brick and mortar you are very mistaken.

      • Mikey says:

        Small, densely populated country is easier to deliver too. Also, internet access is much cheaper outside USA oligopoly of isp.

      • R2D2 says:

        US ecommerce is at 11% of total retail sales today. UK is at 19%, almost DOUBLE the US ratio! The UK is 3 to 5 years in front.

        And what the UK is seeing today is a peak of ecommerce sales. It appears to have reached (for now) a ceiling around one-fifth of total.

        Whether it is a peak or a pause, time will tell. But, for now, ecommerce in the UK is slowing, and struggling to move above the 20% ceiling.

        The US could well see another 3 to 5 years of strong ecommerce growth — and then it will slow (or even stop).

        • Wolf Richter says:

          R2D2,

          “US ecommerce is at 11% of total retail sales today. UK is at 19%, almost DOUBLE the US ratio! The UK is 3 to 5 years in front.”

          Careful here. There are big differences in how “retail sales” are defined in the US and the UK.

          I have run into this issue in our own reporting on UK retail sales. So I went through the categories of stores that are included in UK retail sales, and to my understanding, it doesn’t include some big categories that are included in the US.

          For example, auto dealers in the US are over 20% of total retail sales, but auto dealers are not included in the UK data set.

          Also pharmacies are included in the US, and that’s a huge business. But in the UK, pharma products fall under the national healthcare system, and it looks to me like those pharmacy products are not part of the UK retail sales data set. And there were other differences.

          So I don’t think we can compare the two numbers. It would be interesting to see the two numbers based on a standardized data set.

    • What Petunia said sparked a thought: If there’s one thing that defines American retail, I’d say it’s lifeless, replaceable, car-centric big-box shopping complexes. Exactly the kinds of places that ecommerce eats for lunch, and that nobody misses. So your stats make sense in that respect. Europe, I gather, never fully de-humanized its B&M to begin with. The US will see more of the same culling, I think.

      • Deanna Johnston Clark says:

        Yes…we need to begin with WHO is going down. Except for the large dept. store chains, those tanking are large chains that sprang from the head of Zeus…the large banks.
        Hundreds sprang overnight, taking loses until the locals were unable to compete and closed. For instance: Office Max, Home Depot, Lowes, Office Depot, Party City, Michaels…these popped up like poison ivy everywhere in the US at once. Completely inorganic, cold, impersonal, and run from NYC banks.
        Alas for the employees…they are real.
        When people decide to join the “real world” again, local business will increase.
        FOR INSTANCE: the whole food chain Lucky’s opened here 5 years ago and bothered local health food stores. Lucky’s has gone just this month…so much was from China I think people were avoiding the fresh meat and fish. The local small stores and farmer’s market are already seeing more customers.

    • char says:

      Christmas effect. In December people buy more “mall-store” stuff. In January they buy less but the drop in food and gas is less than in the mall stuff.

  15. unit472 says:

    FWIW, I’m under ‘credit’ attack again. On my desk are 6 declined Chase credit cards issued in the past two months. I am not ‘rich’ but I do keep over $100,000 in my Chase bank accounts. I have never missed a payment in over 20 years.

    Here is the problem and I hope you never encounter it. You call the number on the back of your credit card to inquire why your card was declined. A female voice with a foreign accent answers. She needs your ‘password’ to open your account. You give it to her even though she offers you nothing about herself other than her ‘first name.

    You are issued another credit card which arrives and you call again to ‘activate it’. Again you are connected to a female with a foreign accent who asks for your ‘new’ password’ See the problem. If not, I’ll explain.

    I was being connected to call centers in India and the Phillipines speaking to women who offered nothing more than their first names. I was issued a new credit card and made to give a new password. After a week or two the new card was declined resulting in another humiliating experience.

    I grew weary of the process and demanded to speak to someone with an American accent. You have that right but they don’t tell you that until you demand it. Why should they? Liz in Manila or wherever is doing well selling your card number and password. She is beyond the reach of US law.

    • 2banana says:

      Open a credit union account.

      Get a credit card from them.

      Never had a problem. Customer service is excellent.

      • Deanna Johnston Clark says:

        I did that on the advice of Catharine Austin Fitts….quite a trouble because of the SSecurity deposits and pay check deposits from a part time job.
        Not only was it wonderful to know my small money was helping local kids get cars for work, but I’ve had no problem with the cards.

    • Anthony Aluknavich says:

      You should never give a card rep your password and you shouldn’t have to.

    • Escierto says:

      Whenever I hear an Indian voice I start speaking Spanish. I am quickly rerouted out of India often to someone in the US or Canada.

  16. qt says:

    So my wife went to South Coast Plaza (in Costa Mesa, CA) which is super up- scale mall on the weekend. She said there were alot less Chinese than normal and some store was offering $200 or $300 Visa gift card discount if you spent over $1000. Not sure exactly the promotion but I’m glad she didn’t buy anything to get the gift card. Maybe the Corona Virus is affecting the traffic down there. Costa Mesa is very close to Irvine and UCI. For me, I avoid the crowds whenever possible, virus or no virus. At this point, I have enough junks in my life and don’t want to add anymore.

    • eek says:

      When the first SoCal coronavirus case was discovered, there was a rumor floating across all social media (WeChat, Line, FB, etc) that the patient is from Wuhan with a child attending Irvine Community College. The person was rumored to be shopping at some place in Irvine and had visited South Coast. (Places visited are most likely fake)

      That is part of the reason why you see a big decline at South Coast, but in general the Chinese population are avoiding going out and I definitely see a decline in foot traffic in Chinese supermarkets and restaurants.

      Ding Tai Fung in Santa Anita mall (Arcadia) was nowhere near capacity when I went 2 weekends ago and the whole mall was way empty for a Saturday. Good time to dine at Chinese restaurants.

  17. IdahoPotato says:

    @Wolf

    Simon Property Group CEO recently complained that with online return rates really high, retailers are in some instances deducting the returns of online sales from their brick and mortar sales to juice their online numbers to appease shareholders.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-01/mall-owners-and-retailers-clash-over-avalanche-of-online-returns

    This is a fascinating analysis on the cost structure of online vs. brick and mortar, where the online transaction is often more expensive for the retailer.

    https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/08/09/why-its-so-hard-to-make-a-profit-in-e-commerce.aspx

    “Clothing items bought online are returned three times more than items bought in-store on average. But processing those online returns can be six times more expensive compared to in-store.

    Industry standard suggests 30 to 40 percent of all clothing bought online ultimately gets returned.”

    ….

    “J.C. Penney said its profitability order is a little different, with in-store being the most profitable. The order online, pick up in-store option is the second most profitable, followed by order online, ship from distribution center, and lastly order online, ship from store.”

    Retail sales online have much lower margins for many retailers.

    Buy Online Pickup In Store is accounted for as an online sale. This is actually the best intersection of customer conveneince and retailer profitability. However, you still need brick and mortar retail for that.

    A lot of retailers (like Macys) cannot sustain the omnichannel model if they have to operate both BnM and online simultaneously. Volume often comes with much lower or negative profit margins.

    Costco clearly states for many of its online purchases that the items will cost you less at the local Costco store.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      IdahoPotato,

      Yes. But it doesn’t matter for department stores if B&M is more profitable than online because B&M is disappearing and they have to figure out how to survive online, or not survive at all. It’s not happening overnight — it has taken two decades so far — but every day is a day closer to the end of department stores. So JCP clings to its B&M sales because they’re more profitable, and that’s great, but those sales are disappearing, and everything that clings to them will disappear with them.

      • wkevinw says:

        In free markets, the leaders profit margin is the competitors’ opportunity.

        Amazon’s profit margin is in web services. I wonder what will happen if this cash cow gets enough competition to drive Amazon to having to raise prices or reduce services in its ecommerce biz, e.g. charge more for returns, or whatever.

        That is when it will get interesting.

        • wkevinw says:

          Oh- and, if there is a prolonged stock bear market, Amazon’s managers will start leaving, as they pay via stock share and option incentives.

          Two things keep Amazon going: web services and appreciating stock prices. (not ecommerce profits)

        • IdahoPotato says:

          The only ecommerce websites that seem to be making money exclusively through ecommerce are Ebay and more recently Etsy. Wayfair and Overstock aren’t doing too well.

        • Amazon’s profit margin isn’t on inventory they sell, it’s in the eyeballs they get. Traffic. They don’t have to worry about you undercutting their prices. Not their problem. That’s the problem of ALL those micro-retailers who sell via Amazon.com. No business can compete against a thousand competing businesses operating out of garages.

    • Petunia says:

      The best part of online shopping is you can always shop for out of season items. In a store the seasonal items are eventually removed, but online they remain until they sell and they keep going down in price.

      I can now start looking at winter things for next year at a reduced price. If I am still not happy with the price, I keep checking. In the stores the items would all be gone by Easter, online I could buy a coat in July.

    • Willy Winky says:

      That is fascinating.

      When you factor in the cost of delivery and the costs involved with the returns, this business would appear to be set to lose even more money than the food delivery business.

      With food delivery, there are not issues with returns.

      And still, as Chanos explains, it is virtually impossible for food delivery companies to ever turn a profit

      What does the future look like? Bricks and Mortars disappears leaving us with online shopping store fronts that all lose money, and can only make money by applying significant delivery fees.

      Applying significant delivery fees would result in reduced sales volumes as people only have so much money to spend.

      This online thing is looking like a massive disaster in the making.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Willy Winky,

        Lots of companies make lots of money selling stuff online, including Apple. Don’t be fooled. But retail is always tough, no matter what form of retail, as you can see by the demise of brick-and-mortar retailers. It’s tough because American consumers are hard to please, they’re very good at comparison shopping and at sniffing out deals, and they’re finicky and easy to turn off, and retailers are up against these consumers. That’s just how it is. American consumers are no lay-downs.

        • Al says:

          Amazon has Whole foods and last year the threw a life line to Kohls and lets you return Amazon there for free and a Kohls 20% off coupon.

      • Sammy Iyer says:

        Willy Wanky
        As a very profitable 3rd party online merchant with my own excution (not store in amazon ware house) , I can tell you selling online is profitable ( but not heavy items in general – that also can be shipped via ground).
        Light weight novel items (sourced from china of course ) has to be sold triple the imported landing cost to pay for amazon’s cut,free shipping, returns, damages, vat taxes, over heads etc.
        Finding such a niche product is not easy .moment you are successful 100’s of sellers will copy you . It is a niche market.
        Wall street funded pure online start ups with big capital have no retail shops over heads ( only state wise execution ware houses). They can make money . There are even online kitchens only for delivery to cutomers (no restaurents per se ) Swiggy / Zomato have invested in such online kitchens.
        Online works profitable in crowded metro cities.

  18. Pilgrim says:

    Regarding dying Malls, they shouldn’t try competing directly with online retail (except as I mentioned earlier). The trick is to remake and offer things online cannot. For example:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/14/business/aventura-shopping-mall-entertainment.html
    There is always a way if you have vision (and money).

  19. LizaJane says:

    Do the statistics accurately account for returns? I’ve been amazed at the number of people waiting in line at the post office with Amazon returns. Asked someone, and she said if she doesn’t get a receipt Amazon claims not to have received the return & won’t give her a refund. On the way home walked past the UPS store & saw a truck being loaded with Amazon returns. [UPS gives a receipt]. In the case of a gift, I assume you get a credit rather than a refund. When the credit is spent, is that double counted? I no longer buy from Amazon after getting fake filters for my mom’s hearing aids — both aids had to be sent back to the maker to have broken pieces of filter cleared out. Didn’t expect an inexpensive item like that to be faked.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      LizaJane,

      Yes. These are net sales.

      But retail has its complications because it’s so seasonal. I gave you two sets of figures for ecommerce sales: 1. not seasonally adjusted = $187 billion in Q4 (first paragraph); and 2. seasonally adjusted = $154.5 billion (second paragraph). These seasonal adjustments iron out the huge seasonal variation between Q4 and Q1, which includes the issue of sales falling into Q4 and returns falling into Q1. These seasonal adjustments lower Q4 and raise Q1 sales.

      Not-seasonally adjusted dollar sales are the far more accurate number but you cannot easily compare it to the next quarter. So I compared the not-seasonally adjusted ecommerce sales to the same quarter in the prior year (first chart). This irons out the seasonality because you compare Q4 2019 to Q4 2018 and Q3 2019 to Q3 2018, etc.

      All other charts are based on seasonally adjusted retail sales, including the red ecommerce chart at the bottom.

  20. Bobber says:

    Not sure if I’m representative of the general population, but I had a big rise in online purchases 3-5 years ago, but since then, the mix hasn’t changed. I expect online purchases to plateau shortly as I am usually a late comer to new trends. I will always buy all food, cars, and clothing in person.

  21. Andy Fanter says:

    Jim Cramer calls it the “Stay at home economy”. Fourth quarter retail sales were good–for e-commerce. Note, it was a mild winter for much of the US. Next, look at Domino’s Pizza stock today–up 25%. Q4 in the US has become football watch parties with a few Halloween and Christmas parties added.

  22. Anon1970 says:

    I recently tried Amazon’s buy-it-online and pick it up at a local Whole Foods store and was pleased at how easy the transaction was. After I entered the order, I called Amazon’s toll free number and actually got to speak to an employee whose first language was English. He told me that I would be getting another email the next day (delivery day) with a code that I could use to open an Amazon locker at the store. I gave him a rating of 5 stars on Amazon’s survey request and noted that I much appreciated not having to talk to an employee with a heavy accent.

    The oldest baby boomers turn 74 this year and in the coming years, more and more will have to stop driving owing to health issues. Amazon is all set up to capture a big chunk of this market. Its merchandise selection is much broader than that of its competitors.

    • roddy6667 says:

      This is the method that e-commerce uses in China. Everybody buys online. Most people live in mid- and high-rises in communities. Next to the security/management office are lockers for the delivery drivers. When they put your parcel in the box, they send the combination to your phone. It works very well, and keeps delivery drivers out of the buildings. Returns are handled the same way. Also, you can send a parcel to another person through these lockers.
      There is no need to leave your complex or drive to another location for pickup.

  23. Ron says:

    Online commerce is world wide rather then just what is stocked in your local area or country. I buy Table Tennis shoes from an online retailer in Japan other items from Germany and China none of these are available in the United States or North America. The wife just purchased a fake Xmas tree heavily discounted and it arrived in two days!.
    We purchased some patio furniture for a fraction of what it is sold for locally and either way we have to assemble but at least with online it is delivered to my door!

  24. Oligarchsrule says:

    The question is would any of this be happening if these companies couldn’t get capital for cheap and if their investors actually expected to make a good dividend off the profits of the sales? Their profit margins are so thin they would have gone out of business under ordinary interest rate conditions. Anyone can sell a zillion dollars of something if one doesn’t have to worry about making a profit on it. While lots of companies have gone out of business, there are many others taking their place. I think Wolf should put that in perspective. Most of these mall REITs are still over 90% occupied.

    • Old-school says:

      The whole darn economy is being kept alive with easy money. Read Simon Property Group earnings call. I am pretty sure he said their financing cost wad 2.8%. How long can it go on? Evidently a long time. Don’t get lulled into doing something stupid.

      • TownNorth says:

        You mean like acquire Forever 21? That deal seems to have just closed. And after acquiring Aeropostale in 2016….

    • Willy Winky says:

      Tesla is the exception.

      Even though they sell cars at well under cost, they still cannot sell very many.

      Tesla is special.

      Is the Jerry Lewis ‘special’ telethon still going? Tesla should apply to them for more subsidies.

  25. Blue Apron, for one, won’t be posing much threat to B&M stores. I wonder how many other zombie unicorns are out there sucking the life out of B&M stores, when they themselves aren’t long for this world.

  26. historicus says:

    Malls being partially turned into small apartment complexes while keeping some stores and restaurants. This is the new model for millennials.

  27. Xabier says:

    I am very online-friendly, but a well-stocked, competitively-priced, department store, in a nice area, is still, in Europe at least, an attractive option.

    There are at least two in my city in the UK where I can always get what I want and moving from department to department is hassle-free – and they also have good returns policies. Neither of them is in a mall.

    And, after reading about the treatment of workers in Amazon warehouses, and their like, I would be very reluctant to buy from them or an equivalent unless desperate.

    Reading about their treatment of workers makes my blood boil, and I come over all Revolutionary…..

    • IdahoPotato says:

      I will often check out Amazon or ebay and buy the item directly from the retailer. Linens from India, cookware from Europe, pantry essentials and food from U.S. producers, etc.

      I did this recently and the Portuguese retailer sent me a thank you note for buying directly from them (it even worked out cheaper than Amazon and shipping was lightning fast).

  28. Michael Engel says:

    Amazon discontinued contract with some online delivery
    vans co.

  29. Michael Engel says:

    1) In the last 5Y both JCP and CBL fell from $10 to $0.5 /share.
    2) Macy’s will close for renovations, but will reopen one day in the near future, that’s what Macy’s saleswomen said. Macy’s most dysfunction
    department is its fine jewelry dept. Perfume is best.
    3) If JCP go BK and M will close for renovations, both Lancome/ Sephora
    and CBL will need mascara.
    4) Empty malls will never become Time Sq of the 70’s.
    5) Regulations will change. Malls will be converted to apt. buildings
    plus retail stores, with plenty parking, good security and a liquor store nearby.
    6) Some will become casinos and entertainment centers.
    7) The strong hands will get CBL for few cents for dollars and change
    the business plan.
    8) The old business plan will be shredded.
    9) At the bottom of the next recession, new ideas will get a chance and
    the online assault, – especially online can never make a dime – will subside.
    10) Retail demise biggest pain is yet to come.

  30. Iamafan says:

    How about this for a summary, except for online shopping and hospital admissions, we are already in a recession.

    • Tom says:

      Don’t forget home construction.

      Labor shortage…to many with no muscle mass. Spend all their time indoors online.
      All soft…last about 2 -3 days then back indoors online complaining.

      Need some more brick and mortar..
      At least they will have to walk.

      I’m close to 60. These kids cant keep up with me on the job site. No gym membership needed.

  31. Augusto says:

    Wolf, I wish you would do an article on Shopify. It is the Canadian Tesla, that is a stock with exponential growth, but little in the way of profits, so far. Another master of the universe? Anyways, it hits a couple of areas you like to analyze, on-line retail trends, and incomprehensible stock valuations (at least to me). A suggestion.

  32. Insta says:

    At bowling the other night an IT manager at a local school mentioned how a 51 yr old teacher had proudly told him that she had just made her first ever online purchase. There is still plenty of room for growth online. My wife purchased about 90% of Christmas online this year.

  33. CreditGB says:

    I’m retired. No debt, and sufficient, not large, income to continue to live as I wish.

    I used to shop places like Best Buy, Home Depot, Kohls and others until gradually, merchandise I was looking for was not in stock but could be “picked up at the store in 3 or 4 days” if I placed my order today.

    Enter “Amazon”, who will have what I want on my doorstep tomorrow afternoon.

    I guess all those retailers are way too busy trying to pump up their stock prices to generate the big bonuses, rather than working on serving customer’s needs and their core businesses.

    Beware of “New and Improved” anything, it can be the last step toward total uselessness of purpose, and disappearance into oblivion.

    Just one guy’s observation.

  34. Michael Engel says:

    1) Online sales rock. Return for credit pop. Data from sales
    and return for credit might be deliberately be disconnected. If so, online sales are fake.
    2) Utility love EV // nuke love liquid hydrocarbon.
    3) The DOE love mini$nukes, not EV. Mini$nuke never stop. A drone can swim underwater, for half a year, without taking a break. Mini$nuke can can shoot a mighty laser beam.
    4) When Utilities will change their business plan, developing medern nuclear plant, – as the rest of the world, – liquid hydrocarbon will move cars.
    5) The west have only few resources of uranium.

  35. Unamused says:

    Online retail takes the joy out of shopping. It was fun, back in the day.

    It gets worse. These days, stores stock as little as they dare, not wanting to be stuck with unsold inventory. But it’s self-defeating. It gives people even less reason to shop. It can’t be any fun in a ghost town of a mall.

    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

  36. Retail will return. Maybe not big chains, or mass produced items. There is a desire to have unique and quality clothing and food items. It all turns on culture and suppliers will be able to provide items as cheaply as the current mass culture commodities. So ask your kids you want to work for Google or be a buyer for unique retail shops? It probably takes more education (more student debt) to learn everything you need to be a cog in the social media platform, but it takes some finesse to be a successful buyer.

    • Unamused says:

      Time for a trip to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Now that’s retail. You Americans are too depressing.

      Comfort? comfort scorn’d of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
      That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.

  37. Yerfej says:

    I have never had to deal with a gang banger, hillbilly, or other such exotic individual when ordering online.

  38. sierra7 says:

    Ran across another field of expertise for college degrees:
    “Ferret Locomotion expert” Truly!
    (Expert on for example: “Weasel locomotion”.)
    (minor degree of “Underwater Basket Weaving”!)
    Are we there yet????
    Things are really getting complicated!

    My remembrances of “great shopping”: When the Emporium was located at around 5th and Mkt SF.
    Good used bookstores all over the place (on the Penninsula)
    Good local hardware stores that smelled of linseed oil when you entered.
    Out of this world SF real french bread like we used to buy at so many local bakeries back then!
    And coffee/tea was a nickel………sigh……..

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