An apparent shift from PUSH to PULL marketing is bound to change the retail landscape significantly. I remember reading Bruce Greenwald's book Competition Demystified close to 10 years ago, where I got my first and basic conceptualized understanding on what made big box retailers able to establish local monopolies and attain good returns. Back in the day, a big box retailer could provide and promote products on a very large scale and pull customers in from smaller department stores. If these big box retailers provided a big enough product offering at a good enough price, it would become very hard to pull customers from them - simply because establishing a competing big box retailer locally would eliminate profitability both of the incumbent and the new entrant.
This has changed, and is changing, in a very rapid pace. Additional and huge product offerings of companies such as Amazon, Zalando and Alibaba, can circumvent these locally established monopolies - which in turn changes the way consumers act. If a 15 year old girl wanted to go get some new fancy clothes 15 years ago, to a greater extent she had to get to whatever cloth store she could find within her vicinity and look through the available product offering. She was in a sense pulled to the store where she was PUSHED whatever clothes she would find suitable. This was a very nice place to be in if you owned the cloth store. Today's consumers have plenty of more choices, which forces the competition to PULL consumers by becoming much better as providing just what the customer wants. It's harder to get a "unique" product offering when buying at your local store. I believe this and general convenience is a big factor in terms of driving consumers online, and eroding existing moats around big box retailers as well as department stores. Owning H&M, SEARS, JC Penny or Radio Shack just isn't what is used to be.
I remember both Munger and Buffett commenting on the difficulties on the retailing business many times. One clear memory is the way Munger told the audience at the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder's meeting in 2016 that they got burned so hard on retailing back when they started, that they pretty much never approached the retail business the same way after that. Buffett on the other hand concluded that if you wanted to be a successful retailer in the future, you were not going to beat Bezos at his own game: "You simply can't out-Bezos Bezos". Another aspect is that a company that has used a certain channel in a hugely successful way, will be correctly reluctant to change in accordance with a changing competitive landscape. It's not strange that GEICO, being incredibly successful at offering insurance by phone, were reluctant in offering its services online. The telephone had been working so well for them over the years, and they knew how to work it!
In this light, it's not strange that a hugely successful company such as H&M is reluctant to distance itself from what they know best. In fact, it's probably not even advisable. The value of H&M is more-so linked with how well H&M can have a good product offering offline than online, and the recent changes from PUSH to PULL marketing is a main reason why.
Even more so than Buffett, I have a hard time seeing how to correctly participate and make money out of this PUSH to PULL marketing trend. Neither have I understood any good line of attack for companies to revert the trend. Therefore, I would be very reluctant to own mostly anything within the B2C retail landscape at other than extremely favorable prices. I do not believe that today's valuation of H&M reflects such a favorable price.
My headline is provocative to it's nature, but I did have to PULL you here, didn't I? You probably understand this by now. However, just to be clear, I do believe that H&M will continue to earn a lot of money for a very long time. I consider a return to all time high in terms of gross profitability and inventory to be extremely unlikely however.
Thanks for taking your time - all the best,