Real estate, alternative real assets and other diversions

Stores are still unbeatable advertisements

Head Of Research

Some managers of physical stores are getting paid for online sales too – and landlords want a slice of the action

While in Downtown Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I saw a large sign – like an oasis in the desert – for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at a subway stop. Instinct took over and I followed the sign’s directions down into the station, but alas there was not a Dunkies to be found. Taking revenge, I went to Starbucks. That’ll teach Dunkies for trying to fool me with its outdoor advertising! It’s a rare occurrence when advertising costs a company business.

Unlike this misadventure in advertising, the effectiveness of bricks-and-mortar retail real estate to act as a kind of billboard is undisputed. The power of the ‘store as advertisement’ has only increased in the omnichannel age, making it increasingly likely that consumers will buy a retailer’s products online after seeing its signage or walking through one of its stores.

Health ratios (rent as a percentage of in-store sales) are the most common metric used by landlords and retailers to determine how much rent a tenant can reasonably afford. Percentage rent is largely disfavoured by landlords and their lenders for being too difficult to underwrite or subject to manipulation.

As online sales become an increasingly sizeable percentage of total retail sales (Williams Sonoma, 53% online, J. Crew, 44%; Nordstrom, 27%), a similar challenge emerges in calculating the percentage of total online sales attributable to a physical store presence. This determination is further challenged by the difficulty of calculating net proceeds due to both the cost of shipping and the cost of returns (see CBRE’s recent Reverse Logistics report at: www.cbre.com/research-and-reports/2018-reverse-logistics). Some of this can be mitigated by the buy-online/ship-to-store or BOSS concept, as detailed in another CBRE report, but it remains a challenge.

Despite these difficulties, retail franchisors are increasingly effecting online sales within their brick-and-mortar locations. The strategy combines the ‘billboard’ of the physical store with traditional advertising in the local market or ‘trade zone’, benefitting franchisees with a certain percentage of online sales. This trade zone approach has filtered down to store managers, who are increasingly awarded bonuses not only on in-store sales but total trade zone sales. Trade zones are currently determined by zip code, but more refined metrics are on the way. As retail sales evolve, some landlords believe they should be entitled to a piece of these trade zone online sales too.

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About Spencer Levy

Spencer Levy

Spencer Levy is Americas Head of Research and Senior Economic Advisor for CBRE. In this role, Spencer is part of the global team setting Research strategy for the company, leads a team of more than 350 professionals in the Americas, and is the chief spokesperson for CBRE in the Americas on economic issues. He is a regular speaker on national television, including CNBC, Fox Business & Bloomberg, as well as being an actively quoted economist in the print media. Spencer is a 22-year veteran of the commercial real estate industry as a lawyer, investment banker, capital markets leader and researcher. He is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School.

Articles by Spencer Levy

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