Companies in this sector sell a wide range of products to consumers and businesses, from food and apparel to hardware, household goods, and office supplies. Major companies include Costco, Kroger, and Walmart (all based in the US), as well as Aldi (Germany), Carrefour (France), Schwarz (Germany), and Tesco (UK).
Global retail sales -- including both in-store and online purchases -- are projected to top $28 trillion in 2018 after exceeding $24 trillion in 2015, according to eMarketer. Europe and North America are home to the many of the world's largest retail companies, with Europe accounting for 87 of the 250 largest retailers in the world, followed by North America with 85, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. However, North America is the global sales leader representing nearly half of the revenue share of the world's 250 largest retailers while Europe's share in about a third. Japan boasts 31 of the 250 largest retail companies, representing about 7% of total revenue. US-based retailers are the most global and are aggressively expanding their operations abroad. The top market for international expansion is Asia, particularly China and Hong Kong.
The US retail industry includes about 1 million outlets with combined annual revenue of about $5.5 trillion. The industry includes auto dealers and internet and catalog retailers, but generally excludes food and drinking establishments, such as restaurants and bars.
The internet and increasing consumer connectivity are transforming the retail sector, with physical stores losing market share to online operators. Even segments once assumed to be relatively safe from online competition, such as grocery and auto parts retail, are facing increasing competition from e-tailers (especially Amazon) and reimagining their businesses in response. In 2018, total US e-commerce sales were estimated at $513.6 billion (9.7% of total retail sales), an increase of 14.2% from 2017. E-commerce is expected to grow to 17% of US retail sales by 2022, according to Forrester.
Worldwide retail e-commerce sales approached $3 trillion in 2018, accounting for more than 15% of total global retail sales, according to Internet Retailer. China, with more than 770 million internet users, is the primary growth driver and is projected to account for a whopping 55% of global retail e-commerce by the end of 2019. More than 35% of China's retail sales occur online, by far the highest rate in the world. Other major markets for online retail include the US, the UK, South Korea, and Denmark.
To survive, traditional retail chains are scrambling to grow their own online businesses, right-size their store counts, and optimize supply chains to meet consumers' evolving expectations, which increasingly include free shipping, and next-day (or even same-day) delivery. Retailers large and small are focusing on providing compelling in-store experiences to draw foot traffic to stores and combat online rivals.
While large companies dominate some retail sectors (such as mass merchandisers and grocery stores), other US sectors (such as auto dealers and convenience stores) are fragmented. Many specialty retailers are single-store operations.
Imports are a significant part of the US market for many retail categories, including apparel, shoes, computers, electronics, toys, and cut flowers. Due to low labor costs, manufacturers in Asian countries, such as China and India, play an important, and sometimes controversial, role in the supply chain for many retailers.
Omni-Channel Business Model - As consumers migrate online, retailers that successfully merge their in-store and digital operations to offer home delivery and in-store pickup for items ordered online will come out ahead, especially among younger, tech-savvy consumers.
Private-Label Brands - From apparel, to groceries, to auto parts, private-label brands (aka store brands) are increasingly popular with consumers. Private label dollar sales grew 5.8% in 2018, outpacing national brands by a wide margin, according to Information Resources Inc. Exclusive store brands typically are less expensive than national brands, more profitable for retailers, and increase customer loyalty. Some retailers, including Trader Joe's, build their business around private brands.
Identifying Market Segments - Premium retailers have seen revenues rise 81% over the last five years, while price-based retailers have seen their revenues climb 37% over the same period. In contrast, balanced (or mid-priced) retailers managed only a 2% increase in sales and have been closing more stores than they open, according to Deloitte Insights.
Compelling In-Store Experience - To draw customers to stores in the Digital Age, chains are focusing on creating unique and compelling in-store experiences for shoppers that can't be matched online. Toy stores create play areas for children, home improvement chains host in-store DIY workshops, while department stores stage fashion shows. Beauty retailer Sephora has thrived in part by offering hands-on beauty bars and in-store makeovers.
Supply Chain Efficiency - Rapidly changing consumer tastes and pressure to provide different delivery options to multiple destinations, is pressuring retailers to optimize their supply chains like never before. Retailers who can't deliver products to customers how and when they want it quickly will lose sales to those who can.
Companies to Watch:
Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is playing catch up with Amazon in online sales. The company operates more than 11,300 stores in 27 countries worldwide and e-commerce websites in 10 countries. Walmart is the #1 seller of groceries in the US and Mexico and a leading seller of food in Canada, Central and South America, Japan, and the UK. In 2018, Walmart acquired a controlling stake in India's Flipkart for $16 billion and in 2013 it bought Jet.com for $3.3 billion to transform its lagging digital operation and keep pace with rival Amazon.
Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, pioneered retail e-commerce and continues to disrupt and drive innovation in the retail sector. The company captured 47% of US online sales in 2018, or about 5% of total US retail sales, according to Chain Store Age. Major categories for the online giant include electronics, home, and apparel, but in sells almost everything. The company is expanding in high-growth categories such as grocery and pharmacy. The company rocked the US grocery industry with its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods Market in 2017.
Germany's Schwarz Group -- operator of the Lidl and Kaufland chains -- is the leading seller of groceries in Central Europe and the third-largest retailer in the world. The company's deep-discount Lidl grocery chain has upended Europe's grocery industry and is poised to do the same in the US and beyond. Schwarz Group has operations in about 25 countries, and more than 60% of the company's revenue comes from outside its home country.
French hypermarket operator Carrefour is the largest retailer in France and #2 in Europe (after Schwarz Group). Carrefour pioneered the hypermarket format more than 50 years ago but is a late arrival to the online retail party. The company is aggressively modernizing its vast network of some 12,300 stores across 30 countries and adopting an omni-channel approach to its business.
Alibaba is China's top e-commerce firm and second in the online world behind Amazon. One of Asia's most valuable companies, Alibaba is thriving as China's 772 million internet users buy more and more online. While most of its revenue is generated from online sales, the company, like Amazon, has a cloud computing business.
Products, Operations & Technology
Major components of the retail sector include sellers of motor vehicles (15% of overall retail sales), food and beverages (15%), drugs and cosmetics (11%),
Sales & Marketing
Finance & Regulation
Regional & International Issues
Also includes the following chapters:
Quarterly Industry Update
Trends and Opportunities
Call Preparation Questions
Glossary of Acronyms