Surge in Online Shopping Affects More than Just Holiday Foot Traffic

Howard Schultz voiced a warning last week that beverage retailers should heed.

During the company’s First Quarter earnings call the Starbucks CEO noted that in-store foot traffic at traditional mall and well-known department stores declined 15% in December.

He does not believe the reason was harsh winter weather or fewer shopping days. Instead he points to a surge in online sales that thinned crowds of holiday shoppers. Fewer shoppers meant fewer visits to coffee shops in malls and retail outlets this year.

8967368_sHoliday spending increased to 10% on desktop devices with mobile purchases accounting for an additional 2% of holiday sales, according to comScore (SCOR), an internet data tracking service.  There were 10 days following Thanksgiving when online purchases exceeded $1 billion per day, according to comScore.

The U.S. Commerce Department estimates e-commerce accounts for about 6% of total U.S. retail sales. Three quarters of retail sales are still completed in-store. In fact, in-store retail sales increased 2.7% over the holidays, according to ShopperTrak. The bump was attributed to shoppers going online to research items and then visiting stores to complete the sale. Sales overall increased only 2.3% compared to 2012 according to data collected by MasterCard.

Of concern to beverage retailers are the number of mall anchors including Sears, J.C. Penny and Macy’s that announced hundreds of store closings in the aftermath with Target eliminating jobs and even Wal-Mart reporting same-store sales declines at 100 stores in the U.S.  Amazon was the top rated vendor in mobile satisfaction and had the highest web satisfaction rating, according to analytics firm ForeSee. ranked third.

According ForSee’s survey of 67,600 shoppers, “the most satisfied shoppers this holiday season were the ones that interacted with a retailer across multiple channels.”

The smaller crowds were certainly still interested in sharing a cup of coffee, Schultz observed.

Revenue rose substantially for the coffee chain with same store growth of 5%; an increase in store visits and the fact that customers loaded $1.4 billion onto loyalty cards – a sum $230 million greater than last year. Starbucks revenue grew 8% in the Americas to $3.1 billion for the quarter with the opening of 142 new stores. Operating income grew to $732 million and margins improved to 23.8%.

“There’s no question that the month of December was an inflection point in the U.S. retail business,” said Schultz. He predicts declining in-store visits due to the so-called “Amazon effect” has permanently changed in-store shopping behavior regardless of season.

“What I mean by that specifically is the “Amazon effect” the power of e-commerce all over the country and the world is going to have a significant effect on pedestrian shopping, mall shopping just as it had in December,” Schultz later told CNBC.

“We are navigating through what I believe to be a significant sea change,” Schultz told CNBC. “We’re going to be talking about this for quite some time. I would not want to be a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer that did not have mobile payments and that did not have social and digital media. Those companies are going to find themselves significantly challenged in 2014 and beyond.”

Loyalty is low. ForeSee found that only 12% of consumers surveyed considered one company when making a purchase and that 49% viewed the company they visited as no better than the several other companies they considered when shopping.

“Since customer service is one of the primary drivers of in-store satisfaction, retailers that provide the best in-store service will reap the rewards,” according to ForeSee.

Retail experts recommend that brick-and-mortar ventures establish smaller networks of stores situated in highly visible locations with fewer square feet of space. These stores benefit from an extensive e-commerce business and less inventory in store rooms. Fulfillment centers carry additional stock which is delivered direct to customers or to stores for pickup.

Indoor malls are less appealing than outdoor malls and stand-alone stores. The last indoor mall to open in the U.S. was in 2006.