The viagracrucis of the great surfaces

Large stores continue to lose sales volume in Catalonia. Despite the economic recovery and the decline in unemployment, sales in the sector have suffered monthly falls since January last year.

The figures are particularly negative in recent months, according to data from the Catalan Institute of Statistics (Idescat). Without taking into account the price variation that takes place over time, last September sales in these types of establishments fell by 11.2% in just one month. Compared to September 2017, the decline was also notable, although lower, by 4.9%. Including price fluctuations, falls are 10.4% compared to August and 3.5% in one year, equally negative figures.

This negative tendency has been dragged for two years, although in 2015 and 2016 sales figures showed growths coinciding with the recovery of the economy, after eight years of almost constant falls. Current data, yes, is still far from falling sales in the first quarter of 2013, the worst moment in the recession, when year-on-year variations exceeded a 12% decline.

Idescat considers large-scale non-specialized commercial establishments – that is, where products of many fields are sold – with more than 2,500 square meters dedicated to the sale. Although there are also urban ones, as in the case of chains of department store located in the center of some Catalan capitals, a very important part of these establishments are hypermarkets owned by large chains and located on the outskirts of the cities, often in shopping centers that combine an offer based on purchases of all kinds with leisure items, such as cinemas and restaurants.

"In terms of consumption, we are always going to tow the United States," said Neus Soler, professor at the UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) specializing in consumption. For years now, and following the American trend, a large number of large areas opened up in Spain, which undertook a commercial strategy based on an aggressive low pricing policy. The small commerce "tried to compete" in prices, but it did not go away and, according to Soler, had to reinvent itself in recent years.

Change of model

Unlike the big surfaces, which "have not renewed" the commercial model and have been "expiring" little by little, the small commerce has renounced to compete with prices to spend to offer more expensive products, but of higher quality and a level of proximity that can not be offered by large areas, which are often far from residential areas, explains the UOC's lecturer. "The consumer realizes that he is paying more attention for a little more" if he buys in a traditional trade, which will force companies that manage hypermarkets and other large areas, "says Soler," to "turn the shopping experience" offered to customers if they want to maintain market share.

In fact, in the United States the shopping malls (shopping centers on the outskirts), which almost always include large areas such as hypermarkets, which have gone down many years ago. More recently, bad management and the inability to adapt to changes in the sector led the giant Sears, an icon of the big surfaces, to declare a creditors' contest. A negative trend that, according to the data, is repeated in Catalonia.

The white marks fall

One of the commercial strategies in the area of ​​prices in the large supermarket chains, which owned the majority of large areas, was the expansion of the offer of white brand products, especially during the years of the crisis. The white brand offered quality products a little lower than cheaper prices, but with the recovery of recent years it has lost importance in the shopping cart for consumers, which has had a negative impact on the sales of large stores, according to Soler.

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