E-commerce continues to challenge brick-and-mortar retailers, especially department stores and sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores. However, the retail trade sector is still facing bright prospects in growing metro areas that are attracting people, jobs, and housing. The trend towards integration of online and offline shopping, mixed-use commercial/residential development that requires a strong retail anchor, and the tax incentives for Opportunity Zone projects are factors that will support the growth of brick-and-mortar retail stores in 2019.
E-Commerce and Retail Trade Trends in 2018
In 2018, electronic and mail order sales totaled $598 billion, or 12.7 percent of the $5.3 trillion in total retail sales in 2018, up from a mere four percent of the market in 1992. Electronic shopping & mail order sales outpaced warehouse clubs and super store sales ($481 billion) and department store sales ($149 billion). Department store (excluding leased space) retail sales (think Sears, JC Penny, Marshall Field’s, Filene’s Basement, and the like) have shrunk since 2000 from $231 billion to just $149 billion by 2018. Warehouse clubs and super stores (think Sam’s Club/Walmart, Costco, BJ’s) sales have risen robustly along with e-commerce sales since 2000, but sales have been overtaken by e-commerce sales since 2016.
Department stores (excluding leased departments) and sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores have been hit the hardest, with sales contracting in 2018 for these sub-retail sector markets. In 2018, sales of department stores excluding leased space and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores sales contracted while electronic and mail order retail sales rose 10 percent. E-commerce sales outpaced the growth of total retail sales (4.7%) and all retail subsectors except sale of gasoline stations (12.7%), fuel dealers (23.5%) and men’s clothing stores (12.7%). Men’s clothing stores appears to be doing better in the face of the e-commerce compared to women’s clothing stores (3.3%) (perhaps because it still makes sense to fit an expensive suit at the store). Jewelry store sales also still rose strongly (8.2%) (perhaps because shoppers still want to try on the jewelry before making a purchase).
Just last February 15, Payless ShoeSource announced it was closing some 2,100 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico after it had filed for bankruptcy in 2017. This brings to 4,287 announced store closings in 2019, following on the heels of 8,139 announced store closures in 2017 and 5,524 in 2018, according to CoreSight, a website that tracks the retail market.
Implication on Jobs and Income
With brick and mortar retail trade sales on the decline and e-commerce retail sales on the rise, job creation has shifted towards transportation and warehousing, which are the logistics supports of e-commerce sales. In 2018, the retail trade sector created a mere 14,000 net new payroll jobs in 2018, while transportation and warehousing created 216,100 jobs. Retail trade job creation in 2018 slightly rebounded from the 87,900 jobs lost in 2017, although this is paltry compared to the average of 223,000 jobs created in the retail trade sector during 2012–2016.
What’s the implication of this shifting in jobs from retail to logistics for the economy and for workers? If workers can find a job quickly in other sectors such as in warehousing and transportation, their incomes are likely to be higher. Retail trade workers are generally the least paid among all other major groups of workers, receiving on average $594 weekly compared to transportation and warehousing workers who receive on average $948 weekly and wholesale trade workers who receive on average $1,210 weekly (as of February 2019).
Retail Trade Opportunities
Opportunities for the growth of retail trade varies across metro areas, creating jobs in growing metro areas that are attracting people, jobs, and housing. Factors that will support the growth of retail trade in 2019 are the trend towards integration of online and offline shopping, the development of mixed-use commercial/residential areas that require a strong retail anchor, and the tax incentives for real estate development projects in Opportunity Zone areas.
Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and the increasing online presence of warehouse and discount stores demonstrates the growing interconnection between online and offline (physical, brick-and-mortar) shopping. Walmart or Target customers can now order online and have same-day delivery or pick up at a nearby store. Related Cos., the real estate developer of the Hudson Yards—New York’s biggest mixed-use commercial development that opens in March 2019—just acquired Quiet Logistics, a distribution and logistics company that specializes in catering to primarily online retailers because primary online retailers have also set up shop in Hudson Yards. Grocery stores and restaurants/fast foods are also offering online ordering and delivery companies (e.g., Uber Eats, Grub Hub) or have tied up with delivery companies (DoorDash for McDonald’s orders ).
The trend towards mixed-use commercial and transit-oriented development will continue to prop up the demand for brick-and-mortar/physical stores around which mixed-use, transit development is anchored on (e.g., Harris Teeter is the anchor for the Merrifield development near the Dunn-Loring Metro station in Falls Church, VA). The just opened 28-acre Hudson Yards in New York City has a seven-story mall, office and residential properties, a hotel, school, cultural center, parkland, and public space.
The tax incentives for projects in Opportunity Zone areas is another positive factor that will support the construction of brick-and-mortar stores.
The shift from ‘big box’ development to small format stores in urban areas, such as what Walmart and Target are doing in the Washington, DC area, also presents a growth opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailing.
To be able to take advantage of these opportunities, brick-and-mortars will need to enhance their logistics (warehouse, packaging, distribution, last-mile delivery), use technology to improve the customer’s experience at all phases of the shopping experience from product search (e.g., using visual search instead of text search) to the check-out, physical delivery, or pickup, and to understand that the physical store is a place to create brand impact and awareness.
Retail Trade Employment Still Growing in Half of Metro Areas
While the retail trade sector is facing huge challenges from e-commerce sales on a national scale, retail trade employment is still growing in metros that are attracting people, jobs, and housing construction. Of 405 metropolitan areas and metropolitan divisions, 47 percent created net retail trade jobs over the past three years from 2015 Q4 to 2018 Q4. Below are the top metro areas which created 5,000 or more retail trade jobs during this period.
- Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (39, 100);
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (14,300);
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX (10,000);
- Minneapolis-St. Paul- Bloomington, MN-WI (9,200)
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell (8,600);
- Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN (7,200);
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (6,900)
- Austin -Round Rock, TX (6,000)
- San Francisco -Oakland-Hayward, CA (5,900)
- Jacksonville, FL (5,900)
- Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC (5,900)
- Columbus, OH (5,600)
- Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO (5,400)
- Provo-Orem, UT (5,200)
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL (5,200)
- Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN (5,100)
 Source: U.S. Census Bureau Monthly Retail Sales, seasonally adjusted, downloaded from Haver Analytics
 Think of brick and mortar big names that have shuttered—Sears, Marshall Field’s, Hecht’s, Kids R’ Us, Woolworth, Filene’s Basement, Borders, Crown Books, Kaufmann’s, Linens ‘n Things, Sports Authority, Herman’s, Hhgregg, Circuit City, Comp USA, FAO Schwarz,— or have had major store closings such as Macy’s, JC Penny, Kohl’s, Lord & Taylor, and Toys R’ Us
 The mean duration of unemployment is 8.9 weeks in January 2019. The average duration has been on the downtrend since 2011 with the average duration at 22 weeks.
 Bisnow, “Related Cos Makes Inroads into Logistics to Provide Amazon Alternative”; see https://bit.ly/2T8njar
 Globe St. “Hudson Yards Open: Going Inside Vessel”, https://www.globest.com/2019/03/18/hudson-yards-opens-going-inside-vessel-slideshow/?kw=Hudson%20Yards%20Opens:%20Going%20Inside%20Vessel%20%28Slideshow%29&et=editorial&bu=REM&cn=20190318&src=EMC-Email&pt=NewYork
 Bisnow” Developers Sign Trader Joe’s for Silver Spring Opportunity Zone Project”; see https://bit.ly/2CnqwgR
 DC North Star “New Target Store Coming to DC”; see http://dcnorthstar.com/target-georgia-avenue/
 Divisions are part of metropolitan areas, so there is some double-counting of the total number of metro areas and divisions. However, when we get the share of metro areas and divisions which have negative retail trade growth to the total number of metro areas and divisions, there is no practically no double counting.