As online sales increase, stores enter era of uncertainty

Target, Sears, Macy’s and other major stores got a lump of coal in their stockings during last year’s holiday retail season.

Sales during the retail industry’s most important time of the year were below expectations and have already forced major retailers to close locations. In January, retailers like Sears, Macy’s, Kmart and Ann Taylor all announced store closures in Ohio.

The future doesn’t look as gloomy as U.S. retail sales are expected to grow between 3.7 and 4.2 percent, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2017 economic forecast, but that doesn’t necessarily mean good news for traditional retail. Online and other non-store sales will increase between 8 and 12 percent — most likely forcing additional closures of brick-and-mortar stores, including several in the Miami Valley.

“It is clear that online sales will continue to expand in 2017 and provide growth for the retail industry,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist. “But it is important to realize that virtually every major retailer sells online and many of those sales will be made by discount stores, department stores and other traditional retailers. Retailers sell to consumers however they want to buy, whether it’s in-store, online or mobile.”

Retail is important to overall economy as it supports one in four jobs in the U.S., or more than 42 million workers.

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More and more, consumers are heading online for their shopping and that’s leaving storefronts empty at local malls and retail centers. At The Greene Towne Center in Beavercreek, shoppers walked past a few vacant retail spaces that once held stores like Ann Taylor. Retail experts say companies often close brick-and-mortar locations in January after the holiday season and close of the fiscal quarter.

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Women’s clothing retailer The Limited closed all brick-and-mortar locations — including stores at The Greene Town Center and the Liberty Center — before filing for bankruptcy. Teen clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, based in New Albany outside of Columbus, also told this news outlet that it would lay off 150 employees this year.

“As part of our ongoing cost reduction initiatives and after careful consideration, the company has eliminated approximately 150 positions at the corporate levels to ensure we are structured appropriately for the current retail environment,” a spokeswoman wrote to this news organization.

In August, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. announced 60 stores in the U.S. would shut down. There is one store location at the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek, and another location at Kenwood Towne Center in Cincinnati. A location at the Dayton Mall also closed several years ago.

» LOCAL IMPACT: Another women’s clothing retailer closing 120 stores

Aeropostale has closed several locations, and recently just reopened its outlet store at the Dayton Mall. In Clark County, plus-size clothing store Layne Bryant on Bechtle Avenue and BonWorth, a discount clothing chain at the Upper Valley Mall, closed in December.

Another women’s clothing retailer is closing 120 stores, including a location at the Cincinnati Premium Outlets in Monroe. BCBGMAXAZRIA announced it will close 120 stores across the U.S. over the next eight to 10 weeks. The only store impacted in Ohio currently is the outlet store in Monroe. All other BCBG stores will remain open as now. The BCBG location at the Tanger Outlets in Jeffersonville closed in June, according to a spokesman for the outlet mall.

“These stores either are unprofitable or have untenable lease agreements,” a company spokesman wrote to this newspaper.

Still, the retail industry could be impacted in unknown ways as the Trump administration takes charge of business regulations in the next four years.

» RELATED: Abercrombie & Fitch lays off 150 employees

The economic forecast measures sales for traditional retail stores, department stores, grocery stores, specialty stores and auto parts sales. NRF economists said the forecast is baseline, but does not take into account new fiscal measures that could be brought in by the new political administration.

“With jobs and income growing and debt relatively low, the fundamentals are in place and the consumer is in the driver’s seat,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO. “But this year is unlike any other – while consumers have strength they haven’t had in the past, they will remain hesitant to spend until they have more certainty about policy changes on taxes, trade and other issues being debated in Congress.”

» RELATED: 5 retailers closing Ohio stores in 2017

Local retail centers are adamant that new stores are entering the Miami Valley. At the Mall at Fairfield Commons, officials told this newspaper that several new stores have either opened or are on their way in the coming months including a restaurant and a chain jewelry store. Though The Greene hasn’t announced any new retailers coming to the center, management said they are actively seeking new tenants.

“We have a number of deals pending for multiple spaces at The Greene,” said Steve Willshaw, general manager of The Greene.

» RELATED: New stores could be opening at The Greene soon

On Tuesday afternoon, shoppers sauntered in and out of stores at the Beavercreek shopping destination. John Hill, a Kettering resident, parked and walked over to the AT&T store. He said he’s noticed retailers and new stores popping up in southern parts of the Dayton area, where more people are residing in the suburbs.

Though he shops online on websites like Amazon, he said brick-and-mortar stores still have a strong role to play in the Miami Valley.

“I live just down the street, and we’ve definitely seen growth,” he said. “You come here around 5 p.m., and the parking is close to full.”


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