Holiday Central

Soaring Web sales will continue to dominate retail, ushering in a 50/50 split between online and brick and mortar: Jan Kniffen

Key Points
  • With mobile use soaring, online retail sales will jump by 20 percent this holiday season, retail expert Jan Kniffen told CNBC.
  • The decline of malls tells the story of how the Internet is fundamentally changing retail, Kniffen said.
Retail in detail

Now that the sun has set on Black Friday, Cyber Monday is on the immediate horizon.

Black Friday used to be the undisputed king of shopping days, but according to the National Retail Federation, the day after Thanksgiving is only the start of a consumer buying bonanza that lasts until Christmas. That weeks-long stretch brings in between 30 to 40 percent of all annual retail sales, the NRF states, and this year holiday retail sales are expected to surge between 3-4 percent, up from $655.8 billion last year.

According to retail expert Jan Kniffen, the boost to retail sales will be even more pronounced, thanks to online buying. "Online is going to grow 20 percent this year in the holiday season," Kniffen predicted to CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

"But in the battle for your holiday retail dollar, when will online buying overtake in-store sales?" he asked. "That has to happen, because we're gradually going to be 50 percent online (sales) in this country," Kniffen added.

Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggested mobile sales set a new record on Friday, data from Adobe Insights showed.

Part of the reason could be disenchantment with the spectacle of Black Friday, which has begun encroaching on Thanksgiving proper.

"Even before stores were open all kinds of crazy hours and round-the-clock hours over the Thanksgiving weekend, Black Friday was always your highest traffic day, but it was frequently not your highest sales day," Kniffen told CNBC.

He said families shopped all day, "…so there were lots of people going through your store. It was the original beginning, I think of 'showrooming'," Kniffen said. "They all came in and looked at the stuff but they came back and bought it later; now that happens online."

While "brick and mortar [retail] is a much bigger business…we have reached the tipping point" he said, as in-store purchases defy steep discounts and foot traffic falters. Kniffen noted that in the fourth quarter of last year during the holiday shopping season, "traffic was down 8 or 9 percent in the enclosed malls and we saw growth online of almost 20 percent."

It's an unsustainable dynamic, he explained. "Because it's really hard to run your expense structure when you're not getting growth in the stores."

Ariel Skelley | Getty Images

But while mall traffic is down and has been declining for years, Kniffen countered that "Walmart is a lot bigger than Amazon, but you would never know that by listening to what's going on or the stock valuations, would you?"

Last year, Walmart had revenue last year above $480 billion while Amazon had only $136 billion is revenue. Yet its the latter that investors have been most eager to reward: Year to date, Walmart's stock is up nearly 40 percent, while the online retail giant's is up nearly 60 percent.

As buying keeps shifting to online, how will that affect the future of retail? Kniffen suggested that brick-and-mortar will bear the brunt of the shift.

"You already see fewer and fewer stores in the mall and do you know why? You used to go to 5 (stores) now you only go to 2 and a half today when you make a shopping trip," he said.

Amid the more than 1000 of enclosed malls in America, "we're going to come to the point where we have 600 or 650 that are configured the way they are today. Those may not go away, but they're not going to be what we see today as a shopping mall," he said.

Retail powerhouses, many of which have hit the skids, are already showing the strain.

"If you look at what Macy's has reported for the past four years, or you look at Kohl's or (JC) Penney's they show this nice growth online, and they show reductions in in-store sales. So the stores get bigger, we don't know what to do with the space," Kniffen said. "So you'll see fewer stores too."

On the Money airs on CNBC Saturday at 5:30 am ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.