Whether via online sales or a lower point price trade-off, one Deutsche Bank analyst says the retail slump may go deeper.
This is a question about consumer health, Paul Trussell told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Wednesday. With a "bread and butter retailer" turning out such low numbers this morning, Target indicates a deceleration that goes well beyond apparel and online retail.
Consumers are still spending on home improvement, eating out, traveling and entertainment, but apparel could be the first category from which consumers will start to shy away, Trussell said.
On the other hand, Chief Financial Strategist at Charles Schwab Liz Ann Sonders said it's more likely that this slump is due to online retailers who offering lower prices and more convenient distribution.
"We have to look at consumers through a different lens these days," she said, noting that consumption trends during the pre-debt bubble are not comparable to now. "We have a much smarter consumer, a more conservative consumer."
Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors, explains further that Target and other retail giants are in catch-up mode right now.
Target is on track internally — boasting higher traffic for six quarters in a row according to Widlitz — but these retailers find their biggest problem with an under-investment in eCommerce.
"There's only under 4 percent of Target's sales that are online," she said. "That is way too small for where we are in the cycle of the consumer transitioning online."
She said the brick-and-mortar business is slowing down. Companies that can't keep up with the supply chain fast-fashion model — like the Gap, whose stock has been in a relatively steady decline since March 2015 and just about cut in half in recent months — are a dying breed. Sales are migrating away from brick-and-mortar to online, which is a lower operating margin proposition.
"That's a bit of a scary thought going forward as we look at those companies going into spend mode," Widlitz said.
Walmart is more insulated from this trend due to a larger grocery business exposure, but Trussell expects a similar deceleration. The company is expected to report first-quarter earnings Thursday.