Staples Counting on Discounts for the Remainder of 2023

Recent data point to a record shopping season for Shopify (SHOP), which saw Black Friday sales grow 22% y/y. Additional reports from Adobe Analytics show a strong $9.8 billion Black Friday season. But a successful Black Friday doesn’t necessarily point to a strong 4Q for retail. This note discusses a couple of ways to play the retail sector during periods of possible consumer weakness including online retail ETFs and discount retailers/staples ETFs.

E-commerce continues to take a share of total retail sales.

In my most recent note, I forecasted U.S. e-commerce sales for 3Q at 15.8% of total retail sales. Actual e-commerce sales were 15.6% of total retail sales. That is slightly lower than expected but within a reasonable range based on the adjustment factors I used. Regardless, e-commerce continues to take market share for total retail. Looking forward to 4Q, I expect a continued increase in e-commerce market share. Consumers are shopping during extended Black Friday sales ahead of the holidays even as total retail sales growth deteriorates. This was a big theme last year. But consumers are even tighter on cash this year. They are more likely to pull holiday spending forward for Black Friday. Still, online shopping is driven largely by discretionary areas like clothing, accessories, and other general merchandise (in contrast to areas like food and healthcare). These areas will likely see some overall pressure along with the broader consumer discretionary sector. To sum up — consumer discretionary goods may not be out of favor yet. But I would focus on the online shopping/omnichannel portion of the sector for the remainder of the year.

Consumer Discretionary Segments

E-Commerce ETFs

Consumer staples sector likely benefits and currently trading at a relatively lower value.

In another previous note, I wrote about the rotation from consumer discretionary to consumer staples. Staples are typically more stable when the economy is weak. Why? Because spending on necessary goods typically does not change throughout the economic cycle. This year, however, consumers are still valuing entertainment like restaurants and concerts. This will likely remain a sizable share of their wallet spending this quarter. To save money in other spending areas, consumers will use several strategies:

  1. Buy now, pay later
  2. Increased credit card spending
  3. Swapping to bulk, discount groceries

Broadly, staples should benefit but I see the biggest benefit in discount grocers including Walmart (WMT), its discount branch (Sam’s Club), and Costco (COST).

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