Generally, retailers are considered an optimistic bunch, but a new survey has revealed some sobering results about the opportunities they see ahead – or the lack of them.

More than half, or 54 percent, of traditional retailers say their businesses are just surviving as they head into 2019, according to the survey by accounting firm BDO of big box, department stores, discount stores and specialty retailers.

BDO’s survey of 300 c-suite executives found two camps: “survivors” who report being stable and breaking even, and the “thrivers,” who identify as profitable and say they are experiencing robust growth.

“The majority of retailers are stuck in survival mode,” said Natalie Kotlyar, a national leader of BDO’s consumer products practice in a report released Wednesday. “Playing catch-up in perpetuity is preventing retailers from seizing new opportunities and leapfrogging the competition.”

Here are the challenges that are keeping top executives at U.S. retail companies up at night:

The survey found that most survivors are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the prospects of a recession. But of those who identify as thriving, 51 percent are actively preparing for an economic downturn and 52 percent believe retail bankruptcies will rise in 2019.


They’re all spending money on their e-commerce operations; however 1-in-3 thrivers are planning to grow their store counts, including e-tailers.

Respondents were confused about whether or not to join Amazon’s ecosystem. About 70 percent said they believe the cons of partnering with Amazon outweigh the pros. Only 9 percent of retailers see exclusive products as Amazon’s biggest advantage over their business.

Only 41 percent are planning to significantly invest in improving their understanding of customer behavior over the next 12 to 18 months.

The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade group, said Tuesday that it expects retail sales to rise in the range of 3.8 percent to 4.4 percent this year. That compares with an estimated 4.6 percent increase in U.S. retail sales in 2018, pending an update from the Commerce Department.

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