Gartner Blog Network

Avoid Retail’s Fake News Purveyors

by Robert Hetu  |  April 3, 2019  |  Submit a Comment

Yesterday I saw an article that really grabbed my attention.  @CNBC published the headline “Online shopping officially overtakes brick-and-mortar retail for the first time ever” (recently the title has changed). Imagine my surprise, as I knew that ecommerce was 14.3% of US retail sales in 2018. Obviously I missed the culmination of the retail apocalypse if this shift had occurred.  Upon further investigation, however, I realized that it was just more sloppy analysis and fake news by another financial reporter.

How to read reports and avoid fake news

The claim in the article was based on a US Government publication Monthly Retail Trade . To make the comparison in the article, the author uses February’s total non-store retailer sales and compares them to the total sales from 452 general merchandise stores.

General Merchandise Stores $59,739
Non-Store Retailers $59,768

While this is an interesting factoid, correlation does not indicate causation. This is obviously a comparison of apples and oranges.  As we all know, pure ecommerce retailers sell products from every category. We also know that store based specialty retail has been growing at the expense of general merchandise for years. The total retail sales for February, excluding auto, parts and fuel, was $362,105. Using this total, non-store retailers provided 16.5% of retail sales in February. This is likely slightly overstated but it is in line with the 2018 annual growth of 15.5%.

Avoid retail fake news

US February Retail Sales


Ecommerce is important, this is not fake news

The rapid growth of ecommerce has changed the face of retail like nothing since the invention of the shopping mall or the mega store. So why to I care what this report said? My concern is the same as I have opined before, headlines like this can cause investors and others to drive retailers to make less than optimal decisions.  Gartner’s position is that ecommerce will very soon cease to be a stand alone differentiator in the marketplace.  That does not mean that its not important, it means that its becoming ubiquitous.

Ecommerce retailers continue to invest in stores, this is not fake news

The result is most pure ecommerce retailers are investing in physical retail outlets.  Amazon bought Whole Foods and is rumored to be opening hundreds of grocery stores.  Wayfair just announced its first store opening in Massachusetts. There a myriad examples of this online to offline expansion. This is on top of the widely expanding use of offline to online by traditional retailers.

Shame on @CNBC and others for sloppy journalism that leads to fake news.




Additional Resources

View Free, Relevant Gartner Research

Gartner's research helps you cut through the complexity and deliver the knowledge you need to make the right decisions quickly, and with confidence.

Read Free Gartner Research

Category: retail-trends  

Tags: competition  digital  ecommerce  economy  multichannel  omni-channel  retail  stores  trends  unified-retail-commerce  

Robert Hetu
VP, Analyst Retail
7 years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Bob Hetu is a Research Director with the Gartner Retail Industry Services team. His responsibilities involve tracking the technology markets and trends impacting the broad-based retail merchandising and planning areas. Mr. Hetu is an expert in the areas of brand, vendor and assortment management, merchandise planning, allocation, and replenishment. Read Full Bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.