The best retailers combine bricks and clicks — Richard Schmalensee

MIT Sloan Professor Richard Schmalensee

MIT Sloan Professor Richard Schmalensee

From Harvard Business Review

Retail profits are plummeting. Stores are closing. Malls are emptying. The depressing stories just keep coming. Reading the Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Target earnings announcements is about as uplifting as a tour of an intensive care unit. The Internet is apparently taking down yet another industry. Brick and mortar stores seem to be going the way of the yellow pages. Sure enough, the Census Bureau just released data showing that online retail sales surged 15.2 percent between the first quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016.

But before you dump all of your retail stocks, there are more facts you should consider. Looking only at that 15.2 percent “surge” would be misleading. It was an increase was on a small base of 6.9 percent. Even when a tiny number grows by a large percentage terms, it is often still tiny.

More than 20 years after the internet was opened to commerce, the Census Bureau tells us that brick and mortar sales accounted for 92.3 percent of retail sales in the first quarter of 2016. Their data show that only 0.8 percent of retail sales shifted from offline to online between the beginning of 2015 and 2016.

So, despite all the talk about drone deliveries to your doorstep, all the retail execs expressing angst over consumers going online, and even a Presidential candidate exclaiming that Amazon has a “huge antitrust problem,” the Census data suggest that physical retail is thriving. Of course, the shuttered stores, depressed execs, and tanking stocks suggest otherwise. What’s the real story?

Read More »

Shopping online probably won’t save you money — Alberto Cavallo

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Alberto Cavallo

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Alberto Cavallo

From MarketWatch

If you’re a bargain hunter, it’s common to spend time researching prices before making purchases. After all, you wouldn’t want to buy a washing machine at your local Lowes store only to find a lower price offered on Lowes.com. However, I found in a recent study that retailers’ offline and online prices are the same more than 70% of the time.

That’s good news for consumers, who don’t need to worry about price comparisons when deciding whether to use a retailer’s website or visit a local store. They can choose instead based on other factors like convenience and product availability.

This finding is important for economists too. Online prices are increasingly being used in measurement and research applications, including studies of pricing behaviors, price stickiness, international relative prices, and exchange-rate dynamics. Many national statistical offices are even considering the use of online data in official consumer price Indexes.

Read More »

Using optimization to improve bundle recommendations and pricing – Georgia Perakis

MIT Sloan Prof. Georgia Perakis

MIT Sloan Professor Georgia Perakis

From The Huffington Post

When you shop online, it is common for retailers to offer additional items in a bundle to try to increase sales. For instance, if you are buying towels, the seller may offer matching washcloths. Or if you are buying an airline ticket, you may be asked if you also want to purchase inflight Wifi and premium seating. If this “bundle” is appealing to you in terms of the items offered and the price, you might be motivated to buy it all. If not, the items or services are left on the table, eventually getting marked down even more.

With the online market projected to grow 57% from 2013 to 2018, retailers have the potential to significantly increase their profits through bundling. This strategy can be beneficial for customers too if they are presented with desirable items they otherwise may have missed — and at better prices. The key is creating an attractive enough bundle to incentivize the buyer to click “add to cart.”

Read More »