Over the past 2 months, there have been a number of stories about tenants “distorting” sales including this one in Shopping Centers Today –
It is almost presented as a “breaking news” type item, but this issue, including internet returns and its technological predecessor, catalog returns, has been an issue as long as tenants have been reporting sales and consumers have been returning items ordered outside of a store location. The issue occurs when a consumer makes a purchase that was not made in the store where they are returning the item. It that particular location was either over its breakpoint or approaching its breakpoint, a $150 return could mean a $9 loss in percentage rent (at 6%).
Just this past week, while doing a cotenancy analysis, we came across a cellular provider in a center that had reported sales of $600k for 2015, $625k for 2016 and then just over $150k for 2017. Something was off. We reviewed the lease language specifically to determine if cellular contracts were excepted/excluded from reported gross sales. They were not. The breakpoint was just $650k.
Landlords have been aware of these and other issues and trying to combat them for years. Just a few things that keep companies like The Lamy Group Ltd. and Freed and Associates busy – firms providing tenant sales audits to ensure that tenants are fully reporting sales made at the premises. And, while you may think that the sole purpose of these audits is to generate additional percentage rent, there are many other reasons. One example is that a tenant’s lease is set to expire within the next 18 months and you will soon be negotiating a renewal. Knowing the tenant’s true sales will help you set rents for the renewal or extension term (using an occupancy cost ratio). Another would be that the tenant has requested rent relief and a sales audit helps to create an accurate picture of true sales. Or perhaps, you have provided a significant tenant allowance and the tenant’s lease provides a sales kickout/termination. A sales audit will help determine the risk of the exercise of the kickout, or whether you should devote marketing dollars to promote the tenant to protect your own investment.
While a headline of “Internet returns being used to distort sales reports” might make for good clickbait, the “issue” is not a new one and has always been part of the impetus behind a strong sales audit program.