How The Retail Life Cycle Is Hitting Stocks

I’ve noticed something about my shopping habits — I’m spending less money in big-box stores and buying more stuff from smaller outfits that specialize in just one or two product lines. Based on data from the retail marketplace, I’m not alone. It appears that we are in what might be called the decentralizing phase of the retail life cycle.

When we get most of what we need from a couple of large stores, our shopping is centralized. If we instead use six or eight specialty stores (or online retailers) to complete our shopping list, we are engaged in decentralized shopping. Ultimately, the way Americans choose to shop can influence the stock market.

Let me share an example from my personal life.

For the past three years or so, when I needed undershirts, I went to my local mid-price chain department store (I’ll let you guess the chain). This place strives to offer everything necessary for a life well lived — clothing, home goods, toys, small appliances, toiletries, sporting goods, you name it.

But every time I needed undershirts, they were out of my size. Every. Time. My solution: I started buying my undershirts from an online store that, get this, sells only undershirts. They always have my size, the products are well-made, and they arrive at my doorstep in two or three days.

It was a short jump from that undershirt website to other online stores that sell products that I buy a few times a year — sites like Bonobos (men’s clothing) and Bombas (socks, just socks). Such online specialty retailers offer the same quality products as brick-and-mortar department stores and are often better about stocking a range of sizes.