Over the past few years, the Internet has become a favorite place to shop for many consumers. Shopping online for a particular product can be way more convenient and stress-free because there are no lines to wait in and you can avoid running around only to find out that the product you want is out of stock. With everything just a mouse click away, why bother going out to shop?

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Amazon, (NASDAQ:AMZN), one of the world's fastest-growing retailers, isn't anything like a traditional retailer. It is also for these reasons and so many more that the e-commerce divisions of many retailers are having more luck generating sales growth than the actual stores. Some of the most popular clothing retailers that sell both men's and women's apparel, including The Buckle (NYSE:BKE), Express (NYSE:EXPR), and The Gap (NYSE:GPS), are experiencing explosive growth not by opening new stores but through their e-commerce divisions. This will have a major effect on their bottom lines in the years to come and shareholders should take note of this growth.

Growth without a store
These days, retail sales can come from places other than a retailer's stores. While going to the actual store to shop had once been the only way to shop for a brand's products, this has dramatically changed thanks to the creation of these retailers' online businesses.

In fact, more and more consumers are choosing instead to shop at retailers' websites to save time running from place to place. Even though you can't try the product before you buy it off a company's website, you could shop at the actual store and then purchase the product online after considering the purchase some more. Companies like The Buckle, The Gap, and Express are seeing their online sales growing more quickly than their actual retail store sales. Check out the table below to get an idea of each company's revenue trend over the past three fiscal years and its online retail growth.


The Buckle

The Gap,


FY 2012 Revenue Growth




FY 2013 Revenue Growth




FY 2012 E-commerce Growth




FY 2013 E-commerce Growth




As you can see, all three retailers have managed to increase their revenue in each year since fiscal 2011. This is in large part due to the retailers' websites as consumers turn to digital media, the Internet, and mobile applications as their primary sources of information and entertainment.

Online sales are also experiencing positive growth for these retailers with Express gaining much of its sales growth from the company's website as consumers sign up for email notifications to know when the company is offering its promotions. Some of these promotions are only valid online, which is how many consumers get hooked. There's no question that online sales will continue to climb as today's society becomes more digital.

The big business of direct to consumer
Retail is a big money-making industry. In most cases, consumers can be lured by current fashion trends, promotions, and savvy salesmen to purchase particular products, which adds more profit to the retailers' pockets. The Buckle, The Gap, and Express are doing quite well for themselves in generating sales from their women's and men's apparel and accessory collections.

Company Name

FY 2011
Net Income

FY 2012
Net Income

FY 2013
Net Income

The Buckle

$151.46 Million

$164.31 Million

$162.58 Million

The Gap

$833 Million

$1.135 Billion

$1.28 Billion


$140.7 Million

$139.27 Million

$116.54 Million

The Gap is not only increasing its net sales every year, it is also increasing its net profit, which has crossed over the billion-dollar mark. What's more impressive is that The Gap is doing all of this while also spending additional money to promote its online retail business. The Buckle is also generating a high profit for itself while Express's profit has slowly decreased over the past few years. This, however, could change in fiscal 2014 as online shopping becomes more of a thing among consumers. These companies' profits are likely to remain strong as the retail industry continues to strive and they realize the cost efficiencies of online sales.

Foolish takeaway
Foolish investors who want to add retailers to their portfolios should consider one of the companies mentioned above. After all, these retailers are proof that e-commerce sales are on the rise in the retail industry. Companies that take the initiative, like these retailers, to revamp their e-commerce divisions by introducing new features and product assortments to make shopping a more enjoyable experience for the consumer should be given further thought. Actual stores as we know it could become a thing of the past as digital media continues to step further into play. Investors should keep an eye on the e-commerce sales growth of these retailers and others or risk being left behind as retail purchases move online. 

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Natalie O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com and The Buckle. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and The Buckle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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