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?

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The store as a showroom: having your cake and eating it too – Elaine Chen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Elaine Chen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Elaine Chen

From The Huffington Post

In 2005, I was shopping for an acoustic piano. Back then, piano shopping worked like this: Go to a showroom. Play every instrument. Pick one, and negotiate a price. Have it shipped to your house. Everyone understood that a piano store does not maintain much inventory on site.

Apparel shopping was completely different. Shoppers went to the store, tried things on, then paid and left with their purchase in a shopping bag.

The changing face of apparel retail

Fast forward to 2016. Piano shopping is still much the same, but apparel shopping has changed. While store sales still account for a majority of retail revenues, online sales for apparel has been growing explosively.

Nielsen found that in 2015, almost half of U.S. shoppers (41%) had bought clothes online in the last six months, and roughly 12% had made a mobile apparel purchase. Citing Morgan Stanley, Business Insider reported that Amazon has a 7% share of the apparel retail market, and will comprise a 19% of the market share by 2020. Another article cites a Cowen & Co. report which predicted that Amazon will overtake Macy’s by 2017.

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The retailer’s dilemma: Deep discounts make the holidays less than joyous — Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From Bloomberg Businessweek

For retailers, this holiday season has been far from merry. Indeed, much of the cheer retailers have managed to generate has gone to consumers.

Retailing has become a multichannel free-for-all. To the brick-and-mortar giants, online retailers are no longer pesky niche players but life-threatening rivals. The online retail space itself has gotten crowded with formidable competitors. Established stores also must compete with each other and local mom-and-pops for the dwindling number of shoppers willing to brave the frequent snowstorms that hit much of the U.S. in this key shopping month. Add the growing threat of mobile platforms, and your average retailer, online or offline, senses danger everywhere.

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Visiting Prof. Zeynep Ton on why more retailers should invest in their employees

MIT Sloan Visiting Prof. Zeynep Ton

It’s no secret that the labor market is tough these days. But the issue isn’t just the number of people who are unemployed. It’s also income inequality and the low pay of retail employees that’s concerning. Retail employees represent close to 20% of the U.S. workforce.

In retail, conventional wisdom holds that if you want to offer the best prices then you can’t afford to invest in your employees. Typical retail workers receive minimal training, irregular hours, and no benefits for part-timers. Turnover is high with understaffing common.

Wages are so low that retail workers tend to rely more on public assistance than workers in other industries. If companies actually invested in their employees by offering better jobs, many of these people could move into the middle class, which is critical in our economy.

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