Chatter of an economic recession -- and a corresponding market sell-off -- has been circulating for months now. The funny thing is, we've yet to see either. Maybe the economy isn't in dire straits after all. Or perhaps stocks aren't nearly as vulnerable as we've been led to believe.
Whatever the case, it's increasingly clear we're closer to the beginning of the next bull market than not (if we're not in one already). Invest accordingly. That is to say, be sure to own stocks with the most to gain when the broad market does rise.
E-commerce tool provider Shopify (NYSE: SHOP) remains one of the best bets of this kind for four overarching reasons. Let's investigate why.
1. The economy can't help brick-and-mortar much anymore
There was a time when brick-and-mortar stores' fortunes were tethered to the economy. Now, not so much. Even in the booming economy between 2009 and 2019 the average American mall was running into a headwind. Perhaps worse, despite a tepid but measurable economic recovery, Coresight Research fears one-fourth of the nation's remaining malls could be shuttered by 2025. Their numbers could dwindle from around 700 then to less than 200 by 2030.
And stand-alone stores aren't faring much better. Long-time shopping stalwart Bed Bath & Beyond is on the ropes, having declared bankruptcy just a few days ago after announcing several store closings earlier this year. Even the venerable Walmart is calling it quits in some markets.
Consumerism isn't unraveling though. The Census Bureau says the nation's retail spending grew more than 9% last year to reach a record-breaking $7.1 trillion. This spending is simply still shifting to online venues (more on this below). As more and more brick-and-mortar stores close, look for people to move more of their discretionary spending to e-commerce options.
2. DTC is e-commerce's next big growth driver
E-commerce continues to chip away at brick-and-mortar sales, but even within the e-commerce arena change is afoot. That change is the rapid expansion of the direct-to-consumer (or DTC) shopping that Shopify facilitates.
In online shopping's infancy it made sense to lean on platforms like Amazon and eBay. Sites such as these not only drew a crowd of interested buyers, but made it easy to sell. Vendors and sellers didn't exactly mind sharing a cut -- and customers -- with eBay or Amazon. Online store owners just wanted a means of marketing their goods.
As technology has evolved, however, brands are increasingly aware that other, more cost-effective sales platforms are out there. These brands are also learning the value of collecting a customer's information like an address or email for themselves rather than allowing a third-party site to cultivate a relationship with that customer.
To this end, online-shopping consulting outfit Invesp reports that more than half of consumers would rather buy directly from a manufacturer than a third party, since the manufacturer can offer more relevant information about their own products. This is a big reason market research outfit eMarketer believes the United States' DTC market alone will be worth a whopping $213 billion in 2024, up 37% from 2022's estimated $155.5 billion. Overseas DTC markets are experiencing comparable growth.
3. Amazon and eBay have lost their way
That being said, it's not as if eBay and Amazon haven't helped motivate sellers themselves to consider alternative selling options.
Take Amazon's initiative to monetize its shopping website in a new way as an example. It's not simply showing banner ads at Amazon.com. Sellers can pay to have their product featured at the site. While this boosts sales for some, it pits sellers against other sellers; in some cases it even pits sellers against Amazon itself, which may be selling a competing product of its own.
Third-party sellers are increasingly wondering if they're feeding the very beast that will eventually eat them.
And eBay isn't significantly better. Although it doesn't compete directly with its sellers, it does prioritize the featuring of some listings based on how much a seller has paid to be promoted. Many sellers simply can't afford to pay for promotion and still turn an adequate profit.
Rather than operate without knowing if and when another seller might displace their reach with shoppers, companies are increasingly looking for the selling self-sufficiency that Shopify provides.
4. A profit explosion is brewing for Shopify
Possibly most important, Shopify is on the verge of huge earnings growth. Any economic expansion that's driving market bullishness could accelerate this growth, but more than that, a new bull market may well highlight this improvement in a way that drives the stock higher.
This year's projected per-share profit of $0.03 is essentially in line with last year's bottom line despite an expected 19% increase in sales. Sales and marketing costs as well as research and development expenses are soaring at this stage of the young company's existence. This is the year, however, Shopify seems to be reaching a critical mass. Next year's projected 21% sales growth will likely drive per-share earnings up to $0.22 en route to even more earnings beyond that point.
There's no denying that there's a tailwind in place with plenty of room to go. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports the nation's shoppers spent a record-breaking $1.03 trillion online last year, up nearly 8% from 2021's tally. But, that's still only about 15% of the country's total shopping. The other 85% is up for grabs by retailers that recognize e-commerce is a huge part of the industry's future.
They'll need outfits like Shopify to make the most of this major shift. And again, that's just the United States. Shopify is expanding overseas as well.
Find out why Shopify is one of the 10 best stocks to buy now
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John Mackey, former CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. James Brumley has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon.com, Shopify, and Walmart. The Motley Fool recommends eBay and recommends the following options: short April 2023 $52.50 calls on eBay. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.