Greenberg: Is Costco Vulnerable to Online Avalanche?

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- Retailers have been blaming everything and nothing for the recent spate of bad performance.

In the end, however, it may be rather simple: For the first holiday ever, online shopping really appears to have hit a point of critical mass.

Consider, for example, Pacific Sunwear (PSUN) CEO Gary Schoenfeld's comments in recent earnings guidance, when he said, "Business picked up in the final few days prior to Christmas and then finished the month strong as self-shoppers came back to the mall."

The key to his comment was his mention of "final few days prior to Christmas," which coincidentally ties into the amount of time the window generally closes for all but costly overnight deliveries for online shoppers.

Enter Costco (COST): As great of a retailer as Costco is (and I do mean great), it has done woefully little online. Its barebones Web site is hardly a destination, certainly not for competitive shopper. And its online sales, while an enormous $3 billion, account for only about 2.5% of revenue.

The same could be said for the likes of other off-price retailers like Ross Stores (ROST) and TJX (TJX). "In three to five years they're in trouble because the move online is a tsunami," says retailing consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen of J. Rogers Kniffen.

Kniffen believes that as good as all of these retailers are, their off-price models don't necessarily translate online unless they can offer the same products as they do in the story. And, besides, they're so far behind the curve.

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