'The department store is online now': Warren Buffett says the face of retail is shifting

Abandoned storeJasper Juinen/Getty ImagesA closed down supermarket from the Intermarche chain stands deserted on November 23, 2012 in Villacanas, Spain.

Warren Buffett thinks retail in America is going through a huge transition.

At the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Buffett said there is clearly pain for retailers as they adjust to the growth of online shopping.

“The department store is online now,” Buffett said, noting that the shift could be hard to grapple with for the major retailers.

Buffett’s partner, Charlie Munger, agreed that the retail business has become incredibly difficult.

“It would certainly be unpleasant if we were in the department store business,” Munger said.

Roughly 3,500 brick-and-mortar retail stores are expected to close over the first half of 2017 and retail executives are been noting the pain in recent public statements.

Earlier this year, Berkshire Hathaway sold off the overwhelming majority of its share in Walmart for $US900 million.

“I have no illusion that 10 years from now will look the same as today, and there will be a few things along the way that surprise us” the Berkshire CEO said.

Buffett did say that his retail businesses — Fruit of the Loom and Nebraska Furniture Mart — have seen an increase in online shopping, but have also seen increasing same store sales and thus the effect has not been a negative one.

In fact, Buffett said the percentage of shopping done online at Nebraska Furniture is close to 10% of sales.

“The world has evolved, and it’s going to keep evolving, but the speed is increasing,” Buffett concluded.

Check out our coverage of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting here.

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