NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- All investors need to do in this winter of retail sales discontent to see the illusion that selling on the Web is cheaper, faster and more lucrative than selling in a real store, is, you know ... look.
It seems coal is about all online and in-store retailers can expect for the holidays. For the first time in a decade, Thanksgiving and the ever-critical Black Friday/Cyber Monday retail shopping duality come at the latest possible weekend in the calendar year. That means that -- even though for first time in years there are legitimate must-buys such as the Microsoft XBox One and Sony Playstation 4, a chill is coming to retailing this holiday.
"Faced with continued economic uncertainty and used to doing more with less, consumers will take a conservative approach to spending this holiday season," said the National Retail Federation's survey on shopping sentiment for 2013 in October.
Even more surprising is how big retailers aren't even bothering being coy about the coming gloom. Of many announcing bad news, bellwether retailer Wal-Mart (WMT) flat-out told investors this month that it expected yet another declining quarter, the third in a row over the past year."Wal-Mart U.S. comp sales declined 0.3% in the 13-week period ended Oct. 25," summed up the company in its quarterly statement last week. But in one strangest quirks of any market I cover, Wal-Mart releases its annual statements -- the only financial documents really worth paying attention to -- for 2013, in 2013! mini site, which presents the argument for the company in the marketplace. Spend even a few minutes browsing the aisles of the online investor resource for this $469 billion retailer behemoth and even the tightest-jeans-wearing Web hipster will realize that a pure play online retail will never, ever match the tried-and-true big box store in terms of sales, operating margins and profit margins. Or really any other metric that matters in valuing a business.