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The Ongoing Evolution of US Retail: A Format Tug-of-War

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  • Ali Hortaçsu
  • Chad Syverson

Abstract

The past 15-20 years have seen substantial and visible changes in the way US retail business is conducted. Explanations about what is happening in the retail sector have been dominated by two powerful and not fully consistent narratives: a prediction that retail sales will migrate online and physical retail will be virtually extinguished, and a prediction that future shoppers will almost all be heading to giant physical stores like warehouse clubs and supercenters. Although online retail will surely continue to be a force shaping the sector going forward and may yet emerge as the dominant mode of commerce in the retail sector in the United States, its time for supremacy has not yet arrived. We discuss evidence indicating that the warehouse clubs/supercenter format has had a greater effect on the shape of retail over the past 15-20 years We begin with an overview of the retail sector as a whole, which over the long term has been shrinking as a share of total US economic activity and in terms of relative employment share. The retail sector has experienced stronger-than average productivity growth, but this has not been accompanied by commensurate wage growth. After discussing the important e-commerce and warehouse clubs/supercenters segments, we look more broadly at changes across the structure of the retail sector, including scale, concentration, dynamism, and degree of urbanization. Finally, we consider the likely future course of the retail sector.

Suggested Citation

  • Ali Hortaçsu & Chad Syverson, 2015. "The Ongoing Evolution of US Retail: A Format Tug-of-War," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 89-112, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:29:y:2015:i:4:p:89-112
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.29.4.89
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Paul B. Ellickson, 2007. "Does Sutton apply to supermarkets?," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 38(1), pages 43-59, March.
    2. Ronald S. Jarmin & Shawn D. Klimek & Javier Miranda, 2009. "The Role of Retail Chains: National, Regional and Industry Results," NBER Chapters,in: Producer Dynamics: New Evidence from Micro Data, pages 237-262 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    6. Holmes, Thomas J, 2001. "Bar Codes Lead to Frequent Deliveries and Superstores," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 32(4), pages 708-725, Winter.
    7. Kenneth R. Troske, 1999. "Evidence On The Employer Size-Wage Premium From Worker-Establishment Matched Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(1), pages 15-26, February.
    8. Fiona Scott Morton & Florian Zettelmeyer & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2001. "Internet Car Retailing," NBER Chapters,in: E-commerce, pages 501-519 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Morton, Fiona Scott & Zettelmeyer, Florian & Silva-Risso, Jorge, 2001. "Internet Car Retailing," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(4), pages 501-519, December.
    10. Bart J. Bronnenberg & Paul B. Ellickson, 2015. "Adolescence and the Path to Maturity in Global Retail," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 113-134, Fall.
    11. Mark Doms & Ron Jarmin & Shawn Klimek, 2004. "Information technology investment and firm performance in US retail trade," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 13(7), pages 595-613.
    12. Panle Jia, 2008. "What Happens When Wal-Mart Comes to Town: An Empirical Analysis of the Discount Retailing Industry," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 76(6), pages 1263-1316, November.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Guido Friebel & Matthias Heinz & Miriam Krueger & Nikolay Zubanov, 2017. "Team Incentives and Performance: Evidence from a Retail Chain," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(8), pages 2168-2203, August.
    2. D. Roderick Kiewiet, 2016. "What’s Right, and What’s Wrong, with “What is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” by Edmund Phelps," Homo Oeconomicus: Journal of Behavioral and Institutional Economics, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 11-18, August.
    3. repec:eee:jouret:v:93:y:2017:i:2:p:241-251 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Alain Cohn & Tobias Gesche & Michel André Maréchal, 2018. "Honesty in the Digital Age," CESifo Working Paper Series 6996, CESifo Group Munich.
    5. Stan Veuger & Daniel Shoag & Cody Tuttle, 2017. "Rules versus home rule: Local government responses to negative revenue shocks," AEI Economics Working Papers 953635, American Enterprise Institute.
    6. Sumit Agarwal & J. Bradford Jensen & Ferdinando Monte, 2017. "The Geography of Consumption," NBER Working Papers 23616, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. repec:eee:joreco:v:43:y:2018:i:c:p:77-84 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Erik Brynjolfsson & Daniel Rock & Chad Syverson, 2018. "Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Artificial Intelligence: An Agenda, pages 23-57 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. repec:ers:journl:v:xx:y:2017:i:3b:p:542-554 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:krk:eberjl:v:5:y:2017:i:1:p:11-26 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Robert J. GORDON, 2015. "Secular Stagnation on the Supply Side: U.S. Producivity Growth in the Long Run," Communications & Strategies, IDATE, Com&Strat dept., vol. 1(100), pages 19-45, 4th quart.
    12. Bronnenberg, Bart, 2018. "Innovation and Distribution: A General Equilibrium Model of Manufacturing and Retailing," CEPR Discussion Papers 13058, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D24 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Production; Cost; Capital; Capital, Total Factor, and Multifactor Productivity; Capacity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
    • L25 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Performance
    • L81 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Retail and Wholesale Trade; e-Commerce
    • R32 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Other Spatial Production and Pricing Analysis

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