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Retail sales up slightly, but shoppers visiting fewer stores

Retail sales may be rising modestly, but Americans are shopping in far fewer stores.

Credit some of the decline on those who scratched a midweek food stock-up mission from the budget. But more ominous and permanent: far more shoppers are learning about products and comparing prices online instead of schlepping from store to store.

How many? In 2007 the average consumer shopped in 15 stores a month, reports the retail think tank Kantar Research. This year that's down to 11.

Such stats helped shape the theory du jour aired last week at the University of Florida Retailing Smarter conference: merchants must integrate the Web and smart phones into their store experience because the future of their real estate is as a showcase for brands and products and less of a warehouse. The decline also explains why big box chains from Best Buy to Walmart are testing smaller stores.

"The noose is starting to tighten," said Geoff Wissman, Kantar vice president, who thinks the supercenter age has peaked.

Picking Up Pickup: Home Depot's take on this trend is to pump up the volume of product demos and how-to videos for home improvement projects on homedepot.com. Plus, by fall the home improvements chain will accept online orders for 30,000 items for pickup at any U.S. store.

Online ordering will be extended to all Florida Home Depots by Labor Day.

Helping executives make the decision is this: 45 percent of the chain's shoppers already check in to homedepot.com within two hours of driving to a store.

Stockers armed with handheld computers will fill orders and e-mail customers when they are ready for pickup. Subcontractors or repair people can pick up orders.

The selection will be far beyond what's now in a store. As an example, the company points to choices online in this year's patio furniture season.

Based on regional trends, each store stocks 25 sets of the 60 that Home Depot sells nationally. All 60 are offered online with free shipping, plus hundreds more from other patio vendors.

"We're jazzed," said Hal Lawton, president of Home Depot Online. "We're not going to promote how long it takes to have an order ready for pickup, but the majority will be within an hour or two."

Are you being served? In another assessment bemoaning the state of customer service, the July edition of Consumer Reports also lists the best retailers identified in three years of reader surveys.

Top-rated in customer service was Dillard's; in electronics, winners were HHGregg, Apple and Gamestop; among major appliance sellers and pharmacies, the favorites were local independent chains; and among restaurant chains found locally, the best were Bonefish Grill, First Watch and Capital Grille.

Shoe Surprises: Only 20 years old, discounter DSW expects to surge ahead of Macy's next year as the nation's biggest volume shoe retailer. The growth emboldened the 311 store chain to add children's shoes to the lineup later this summer.

DSW got a boost this summer from men's new lightweight sport shoes, in neon lime, pink or yellow.

"Athletic shoe sales are on fire," enthuses Debra Ferree, DSM vice chair and chief merchant.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Retail sales up slightly, but shoppers visiting fewer stores 06/27/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 10:42am]
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