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Half off and you still can't get people in stores?

Shoppers inside the Roseville Galleria mall in Roseville, California, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013.
Ken James | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Shoppers inside the Roseville Galleria mall in Roseville, California, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013.

I said this morning that it was no surprise that some big retailers were lowering their guidance, given that "50 percent off" was a well-known phenomenon during the holiday season.

A bit more of a surprise was the fact that same-store sales were, in most cases, anemic. RetailMetrics estimates they were up only 3.6 percent.

In discussion with retail stock traders this morning, a number of explanations have been put forward:

  1. Macy's became extremely promotional, beginning in August, and many other retailers couldn't adjust;
  2. there were six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because Thanksgiving was a week later;
  3. unfavorable weather that continues.


None of these can fully explain what is going on and, when pressed, most traders acknowledge that the main reason for the disappointment is: The internet is really starting to take a bite out of store sales.

"When you add up everyone, there is no growth in the malls, they are just moving share around," one retail stock trader told me. He estimates that even Macy's grow this mostly online.

This has been a persistent theme of David Berman of Berman Capital, a well-known hedge fund manager that specializes in retail. Berman estimates that in the third quarter, 49 percent of total sales growth in U.S. retail came from just three companies: Samsung, Apple and Amazon.

It's a good point. Macy's may be the winner relative to J.C. Penney, but the real winner is Amazon. It is adding roughly $10 billion in sales each year, and that is accelerating. Look at Amazon's global sales in the last couple of years, along with estimates for growth in the next few years.

Amazon global sales:

  • 2012: $61B
  • 2013: $75B
  • 2014: $91B
  • 2015: $110B

By comparison, Macy's total sales were $26 billion in 2012. That year, Amazon's global sales were $61 billion, but U.S. sales were $35 billion.

In other words, Amazon has already passed Macy's in domestic sales.

By CNBC's Bob Pisani

  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Wall Street