The macroeconomic backdrop suggests a healthy holiday season, but higher inventory levels at retail could mean a more promotional environment should be expected.
That was one conclusion from a panel presentation by the retail analysts at Nomura Securities on Monday. The analysts include Bob Drbul, Simeon Siegel, Mark Kalinowski and Jessica Mace.
Drbul said that despite a tepid back-to-school selling season and mixed third-quarter results, consumers are entering the holiday season with some spending power due to lower heating bills, higher confidence levels and lower unemployment. But he also said that inventory levels for the department store group coming out of second and third quarters and going into the fourth quarter continue to be elevated. “That’ll put gas on the fire in terms of promotions,” he said.
Drbul also said the Amazon effect will be a major factor starting this week and over the next month. Competitive pricing and shipping will continue to put pressure on traditional retailers, he concluded, noting that Amazon Prime and its two-day shipping gives the company a “huge moat and a competitive advantage.” The attraction of Amazon Prime, according to Drbul, is that “consumers know they will get a good deal, [although] not necessarily the best price. And they know that within the next 48 hours they will get [the package at their] door.”
Siegel said the Nomura retail group is estimating a 2.5 to 3 percent comp sales gain in the fourth quarter, compared with a 3.8 percent increase in the same year-ago period. By category, Siegel said the e-commerce, broadlines and department-store group is expected to grow 4 percent for the quarter, compared with 3.3 percent last year; specialty stores up 1.6 percent versus 3.7 percent last year; hardlines up 3.7 percent compared with 7.2 percent last year, and restaurants up 2.4 percent versus just 1.2 percent last year.
Kalinowski said that most of the restaurants in his coverage group are showing a deceleration in same-store sales, with the exception of the burger segment. Further, same-store sales has been declining in October and November in the family dining category.
The Nomura retail team is projecting U.S. retail sales to grow at a rate of 2 percent to 3 percent over the next several years, at a slightly slower rate than the gross domestic product. E-commerce, in contrast, is expected to grow at a mid-teens rate. In 2014, it accounted for 6.4 percent, or $300 billion, of total retail sales. Nomura estimates that it will grow 8 percent, or almost $400 billion, by 2016.
Separately, Chris G. Christopher Jr., director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight, said, also noted that an unplanned inventory build is “placing pressure on many retailers to speed up holiday price discounting this year in order to eliminate excess inventory.” IHS doesn’t expect Black Friday to be as intense as last year given that many retailers have begun their holiday price promotions sooner. Also, he said that many shoppers have learned to stay away from the crowds, turning first to the Web for online sales. He is projecting online holiday retail sales at $95 billion for this year.
And according to mobile marketing firm Swirl, consumers are twice as likely to buy in-store than online or on mobile. But online and mobile play a major role in the shopping journey, with many using their smartphones at least once a week to help with their shopping plan. At least 57 percent are checking their smartphones while shopping in-store to look for offers or coupons. It also found that 47 percent are choosing to shop in-store because they want to see or touch the item before buying, while 41 percent want to be able to take their purchases home on the same day.
Rob Murphy, vice president of marketing at Swirl, said the opportunity for retailers this year is the way they engage with consumers on their smartphones while shopping in the store. He suggested beacon technology, which could allow shoppers to check inventory in the store. “Retailers can connect with shoppers by delivering content or offers in the store or features that make the shopping experience better,” he said. He gave as one example a Macy’s promotion using beacons. Every time a shopper enters a Macy’s store from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, the shopper is entered into a sweepstakes where they can win trips, gift codes and shopping sprees.
Ratings agency Fitch Ratings is projecting that in-store sales overall will grow just 1.5 percent to 2 percent in 2016. It concluded that “increasing online sales, shifting consumer spending habits and limited replenishment purchases in apparel will eat into in-store bricks-and-mortar sales growth,” according to a Fitch Ratings’ 2016 U.S. retail outlook report.
Fitch is predicting that e-commerce will account for 15 percent of total retail sales, and 50 percent of growth in total retail spending in 2016. It is forecasting that department stores will remain the most pressured segment, with additional store closings possible.