TGT - Temporary 'Free Shipping' is a Very Bad Precedent For All

Takeaway: Don’t let this ‘free shipping’ promo sneak under the radar. It ushers Retail to a place where few can be profitable. TGT is not one of them.

Conclusion: Target offering free shipping over the holidays accelerates a trend that we think will play out over two years -- which is that almost all retailers offer free shipping and free returns. Only those with the highest basket size (Nordstrom) can win at this game. Other retailers are likely to follow TGT over the near term. The math does not look good.

 

 

DETAILS

Every year there seems to be a new strategy the retailers embrace to gain share of wallet as the Holiday's approach.  With many stores now open all day on Thanksgiving and staying open 24/7 in the final stretch in December, there's not much more (aside from price) that the retailers can do to get more people to shop at the stores. But Target has an interesting, albeit costly, idea.

 

TGT is offering free shipping on all items in the store for online customers beginning yesterday, and lasting through Dec 20th. This is a huge event for retail -- at least how we see it.  And it does not result in profitability going up, unfortunately.

 

Common perception is that e-commerce margins are higher than brick & mortar. That might be true for content owners like Ralph Lauren, Nike and UnderArmour -- who can side step a wholesaler and capture 100% of the margin. But for retailers like Target, Macy's, Kohl's and JC Penney, e-commerce is not margin accretive.

 

Take KSS, for example. It's e-commerce gross margins are about 25% -- 1,200 basis points below the company average. The big culprit is the triangulation of lower-value (commodity) product, low basket size, and fixed shipping costs.

 

In the example below, you can see that a company like Nordstrom, which is the only retailer that offers free shipping and free returns, has a big enough basket size due to very defendable brands and price/points such that it can still print a superior e-commerce gross margin. Other retailers -- even Macy's, which is known for being a trailblazer in e-commerce (we don't particularly agree) has an extremely high threshold for free shipping ($99), and still does not have a superior e-commerce margin.

TGT - Temporary 'Free Shipping' is a Very Bad Precedent For All  - TGT 10 23 chart1

 

 

Our concern about this move by TGT is that it currently has a $50 'free shipping' threshold. Over the next two months, if you want to buy a package of q-tips for $3.89, or a package of pacifiers for $5.89, you get them delivered for free.   Unfortunately, the shipping cost on those items is about double the gross profit that Target would otherwise record.

TGT - Temporary 'Free Shipping' is a Very Bad Precedent For All  - TGT 10 23 chart2

 

 

Another angle on shipping costs is that a by-product of a 'free shipping' threshold is that it causes many consumers with a low basket size to come in to the store to pick up the product to avoid a $5-$10 shipping charge. According to Target, 14% of its digital sales are picked up in stores, and then about 20% of those customers buy additional items. What happens now that shipping is free?

 

We're not as concerned about this event as a negative for Target, but we are definitely concerned that (almost) all retailers are gravitating to a very unprofitable place -- that's free shipping and free returns. Free shipping is kind of like a dividend -- once you give it, you really can't take it away without severe repercussions.

TGT - Temporary 'Free Shipping' is a Very Bad Precedent For All  - TGT 10 23 chart3


Buffalo Wild Wings: Complacency & Lack of Leadership (by Howard Penney)

"Buffalo Wild Wings has been plagued by complacency and a continued lack of adequate leadership," writes Hedgeye Restaurants analyst Howard Penney.

read more

Todd Jordan on Las Vegas Sands Earnings

"The quarter actually beat lowered expectations. Overall, the mass segment performed well although base mass lagging is a concern," writes Hedgeye Gaming, Lodging & Leisure analyst Todd Jordan on Las Vegas Sands.

read more

An Update on Defense Spending by Lt. Gen Emo Gardner

"Congress' FY17 omnibus appropriation will fully fund the Pentagon's original budget request plus $15B of its $30B supplemental request," writes Hedgeye Potomac Defense Policy analyst Lt. Gen Emerson "Emo" Gardner USMC Ret.

read more

Got Process? Zero Hedge Sells Fear, Not Truth

Fear sells. Always has. Look no further than Zero Hedge.

read more

REPLAY: Review of $EXAS Earnings Call (A Hedgeye Best Idea Long)

Our Healthcare Team made a monster call to be long EXAS - hear their updated thoughts.

read more

Capital Brief: 5 Things to Watch Right Now In Washington

Here's a quick look at some key issues investors should keep an eye on from Hedgeye's JT Taylor and our team of Washington Policy analysts in D.C.

read more

Premium insight

[UNLOCKED] Today's Daily Trading Ranges

“If I could only have one thing of the many things we have it would be my daily ranges." Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough said recently.

read more

We'll Say It Again: Leave Your Politics Out of Your Portfolio

If your politics dictates your portfolio positioning, the Democrats and #NeverTrump crowd out there have had a hell of a week.

read more

Cartoon of the Day: 'Biggest Tax Cut Ever'

President Donald Trump's economic team unveiled what he called last week, "the biggest tax cut we’ve ever had.” Before you get too excited about that hang on a sec. "Trump Tax Reform ain’t gettin’ done anytime soon," Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough wrote in today's Early Look.

read more

Neurofinance: The Psychology Behind When To Sell A Bull Market

"Most momentum investors stay invested too long, under-reacting and holding tight after truly bad news finally arrives to break the trend," writes MarketPsych's Richard Peterson.

read more

Energy Stocks: Time to Buy the Dip? | $XLE

What the heck is happening in the Energy sector (XLE)? Energy stocks have trailed the S&P 500 by a whopping 15% in 2017. Before you buy the dip, here's what you need to know.

read more

Cartoon of the Day: Hard-Headed Bears

How's this for "hard data"? So far, 107 of 497 S&P 500 companies have reported aggregate sales and earnings growth of 4.4% and 13.2% respectively.

read more