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US retail statistics - what are the insights?

Posted: 13 May 2019

Some important retail stats and what they tell us

It can be so easy to get engrossed in your day-to-day role within retail, but having an awareness of wider trends can improve the decisions you make. The problem is there is so much information available that it can be hard to find the time to sift through the reams of research to dig out the important bits. The good news is we have done this for you! Here are some US retail statistics, facts and pointers that will help you to make more effective decisions within your retail environment.

6 trillion sales in retail

Topline view – traditional retail

Retail is at an all-time high for sales, US retail sales reached a record $6 trillion in 2018
Source: The U.S. Census

But return on assets - which indicates the profitability and efficiency of retailers - is declining. This is due to increased costs, in part due to the costs involved in working out how to successfully deliver over multiple formats.

Return on assets. Source Deloitte

Return on assets. Source Deloitte

Sources: Commentary and actual report

In December 2018 US retail trade fell by 1.2 percent from a month earlier. This is the steepest decline since September 2009.

Growth of online retail and its impact on traditional retailers

So, it is clear the traditional retail sector is struggling. In comparison, US online retail sales rose to $517 billion in 2018. A 15% increase on 2017, compared to a 3.7% increase in retail sales through bricks and mortar stores.

As a stark comparison, the US Department of Commerce reports that while online retail has grown 300% between 2000 and 2018, during the same period, department store sales dropped by almost 50%.

since 2000

Source: Chart from The Wall Street Journal

And it isn’t just department stores that are struggling. 12 bricks and mortar retailers filed for bankruptcy in 2018, and at least 1,521 retail storefronts shuttered as a result.

Online now accounts for 14.3% of total retail sales, when you factor out items not usually purchased online (e.g fuel, restaurant sales, and automobiles) – this share has more than doubled in ten years.  And e-commerce sales represent more than half (51.9%) of all retail sales growth.

Understand the drivers of retail changes and use them to your advantage

A growing online market might at first glance suggest impending doom for traditional retailers, but in fact we can learn a lot from looking at the strength of online and by understanding changing shopping preferences and behavior.

You may be a bricks and mortar retailer but that doesn’t mean you can’t utilize the online world to your advantage.

Use social media

There are 243.6m social media users in the US (the equivalent of around three quarters of the population). 21.4 percent of the total mobile minutes in the US is spent on social media.

ranked social media platform users

Social media platforms ranked by millions of unique users. Source Statista.

Understand which platforms your target customers use and utilize social media to engage with your shoppers before they ever enter your store.  The key is to make sure your content is relevant to your customer base. Targeted communications that are relevant and useful can create lasting customer loyalty and drive revenue growth of 10 to 30 percent.

Maximize impulse buyers

US consumers are impulsive by nature, and this holds true online and in-store. US consumers spend around $450 a month on impulse purchases. The top five impulse purchase categories are:

  • 71% Food/groceries
  • 53% clothing
  • 33% household
  • 29% takeout
  • 28% shoes

What can you do to maximize the potential of impulse shopping habits?  85% of impulse purchases take advantage of a deal or discount. So this is a good area to focus on, and can also be a way of encouraging your social media followers in to your store.

Use in-store displays

POPAI reports that 75% of buying decisions are made in-store, so you need to get this environment right. Within the store consider how you present your products.  Displays in high-traffic supermarkets can increase the rate of sales by 64-fold over the same products sold from their usual shelf location. So using point of purchase (POP) displays on your shop floor can really help to boost sales.

stores matter for sales

Clear signage

Research by Brigham Young University found that displays with signs outperform displays without signs by 20%.  And what is really interesting is that when displayed with a sign, regular priced merchandise (not on sale) outperform sale or clearance priced merchandise with no sign, by 18 percent. Signs are powerful! Read more about how in-store signs can increase sales.

Embrace smartphone usage

77% of Americans own a smartphone, and 79% of smartphone users have made a purchase online using their mobile device in the last 6 months. And 87% of shoppers use online reviews to decide whether to buy. 

On the face of it, this looks like bad news for in-store sales but you can use increasing smartphone usage to your advantage.

mobile usage in-store

80% of shoppers have used a smartphone inside of a physical store to either look up product reviews, compare prices or find alternative store locations.

Utilize QR codes

Consider using QR codes within your displays that your customers can scan and find more information or special discounts. They provide another way to communicate and engage with shoppers at the point of purchase and can increase your chances of making a sale. Read more about how retailers are embracing the use of QR codes within their stores. Increasing smartphone use brings news opportunities that you can embrace.

Try this experiment. Use your phone to scan this QR code and read another article on our site!

Key takeaway

Online retail is certainly growing and causing difficulties for traditional retailers, but by understanding US retail statistics, changing shopping behavior and how consumers are engaging online brings new opportunities that bricks and mortar retailers can embrace to cement their position within the retail market.

Further reading

Take practical action

Now that you have seen the US retail statistics, read our guide on how to convert more of your footfall to sales.

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