In almost every one of my recent media interviews and at conference presentations, I get presented with the same question: “Why is store traffic down for physical retail?”
While it’s a straightforward question, and one that lends itself to an easy sound bite or two, the ‘real’ answer is much more complex.
Indeed, there are some general root causes associated with drops in traffic at physical stores, but there have also been some very specific considerations over the past several months, like warm October weather not meshing well with stores stocked full of cold-weather merchandise.
Below are some general thoughts on what’s driving declines in store traffic, centered on five macro- and micro-influences:
- Growing influence of digital, particularly mobile
- Automobile sales
- Shoppers redefining the retail calendar
- A quest for shopping ‘experiences’ and meaning
The wealth of digital shopping choices and alternatives:
The most obvious factor related to driving year-over-year store traffic declines is that shoppers have increasingly more choices with respect to digital channels – more choice in brands, retailers, products, services and even the digital channels themselves. In general, the retail industry has increased its digital sales as a percentage of total retails sales from 5.8 percent in 2013 to 6.4 percent in 2014, with my own prediction rising to 7 percent in 2015.
Wacky weather for Fall 2015
Weather was a major factor that negatively impacted store traffic in late September and October, with the influence on October’s results being most damaging. Don’t forget, the Northeast region also experienced a horrible Winter 2015 with massive snowfall throughout most of New England. Here’s to more moderate swings in 2016!
Automobiles can drive too
In many ways, 2015 has been the year of the automobile, with most manufacturers experiencing significant upswings in auto sales. Higher than expected auto sales negatively impact consumer spend in all other retail sectors – with the exception of petroleum – as consumers, by definition, only have so much discretionary income to spread around. No question, robust auto sales this year have taken a bite out of what otherwise could/would have been spent on other retail goods.
Consumers reshaping shopping events
Consumers are shopping differently, and a big part of that reflects both how consumers are sold to and their expectation of shopping events. An example is Back-to-School, where consumers are no longer shopping in a two-week frenzy, but are starting earlier in summer and taking the event into September and even October, knowing product selection and pricing may be better. That shopping behavior was clearly evident earlier this year, and we’re seeing it repeated this Holiday season as Thanksgiving evolves into a week-long event. Keep in mind that this year, Black Friday for some retailer sand shoppers started the first week of November.
Consumers valuing experience and meaning
More than ever, consumers are spending on experience-related items versus product-driven commodities. Even within product categories, sustainability, product origin/source, community giving and other considerations are playing tremendous importance in the buying decision. Shoppers want to buy more than just a product, they are looking for experiences and for meaning, and the retailers that can fulfill that value proposition will be those less adversely affected by declining traffic.
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