Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: Consumer shopping behavior all over the place


USA/Check out the mixed picture of consumer buying habits revealed by today’s slew of earnings reports:

Judging from quarterly profit reports this morning, U.S. consumers are cutting back on toothpaste buys, making fewer visits to doctors, dining at IHOP and Applebee’s less often, eating fewer Froot Loops and sipping less Dr. Pepper. But on the other hand, they are shopping more at Radio Shack and buying more make-up from Avon.

On Thursday, Rite Aid said same-store sales fell 1.1 percent in July, with front end sales down. (That was the 14th straight month of declines–talk about a cold streak.) A day earlier CVS’ CEO said a lot of U.S. consumers are paying fewer visits to their doctors and the chain lowered its sales forecast for the year.

Colgate Palmolive also reported weaker than expected sales, so between that news and the drugstore chains results, let’s hope Americans are not neglecting dental hygiene. The parent of Applebee’s and IHOP also reported lower traffic though they said diners are spending more per visit. (Oh, why not go nuts and order some more mozzarella sticks?)

Panera’s pick-what-you-pay cafe holds its own


panera2Panera Bread’s hometown experiment in altruism appears to be working.

About eight weeks after opening Panera Cares — a nonprofit restaurant that invites customers to take what they need and pay what they can — executives say it appears to be on-track to covering its costs and becoming self-sufficient.

“It’s a fascinating test of humanity,” Panera Executive Chairman Ron Shaich told Reuters.

Check Out Line: Restaurants offer earnings to digest


panerabreads1Check out the latest earnings on the menu from restaurant chains. 

Panera Bread and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro have served up higher earnings, although Panera was slightly above expectations and P.F. Chang’s slightly below.

Panera, which sells bread, salads and sandwiches, said revenue rose but predicted lower-than-expected earnings for the current quarter.

Check Out Line: Coke’s secret lab looking for newest drinks


cokeCheck out Coke’s scientists concocting the beverage maker’s next blockbuster.

With carbonated drinks sales fizzling, companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have for years been exerting great efforts to find the next home run drink.  Bottled waters, energy drinks and sports drinks are now commonplace, with new variations popping up that claim to boost relaxation, health, beauty, anti-aging, muscle repair, mood and immunity.

Check Out Line: Strong earnings in consumer world, but don’t get too excited


ShoppingCheck out the latest crop of results from the consumer and retail world.

U.S. consumer companies ranging from cigarette makers Philip Morris and Reynolds American to apparel company VF Corp and chocolate maker Hershey Co beat quarterly profit estimates on Thursday.

The stronger-than-expected results are certainly a welcome relief in an uncertain U.S. economy. However, it might be premature to assume all’s well again as a good chunk of the numbers were buoyed by aggressive cost-cutting and price hikes even as total sales remained lackluster.

Is Starbucks brewing up a plan for beer and wine?


schutzIs Starbucks — the company that helps millions of people get moving with a morning caffeine fix — brewing up a plan to sell beer and wine for the afternoon and evening unwind?

“I’m being asked more often than any other time for our managers to keep our stores open later. We’re examining that,” Chief Executive Howard Schultz told Reuters in a recent interview.

Check Out Line: Have a Coke and a confused looking grin


Check out the confused American consumer. COCACOLAENTERPRISES/

Coca-Cola Co actually saw sales volume rise in North America in the second quarter, a rare feat.

Now imagine what would happen if U.S. consumers could actually figure out if they can afford to keep spending the money on a soda, what with high unemployment and the jittery stock market.

Check Out Line: Earnings to quench investors’ thirst


pepsi1Check out the latest quarterly earnings for signs of a recovery.

Whirlpool and PepsiCo both reported better-than-expected quarterly profits and pointed to improving trends, lending hope to optimists that the economy is slowly improving.

While citing continuing macroeconomic challenges, PepsiCo, which makes Tropicana juice, Frito-Lay snacks and Quaker Oats in addition to its namesake cola,  posted stronger-than-expected results and affirmed its earnings per share growth target for the fiscal year.

Check Out Line: Joe High School may have reason to envy younger siblings


student1Check out back-to-school spending trends.
Joe High School may have every right to be jealous of his younger siblings during this back-to-school shopping season, according to a survey conducted by, a part of Experian
Consumers plan to buy more gadgets — laptop computers, cell phones and other accessories — for elementary school students, almost doubling spending in some cases, while the rate of growth is expected to be lower if not negative for many high schoolers, according to the “Back-to-School Shopping Consumer Behavior Report.”
“Laptops and other electronics are the most expensive items on most back-to-school shopping lists. The increase in gadgets purchased for elementary school students has forced parents to increase the overall budget at an earlier age,” Barbary Brunner, chief marketing officer at PriceGrabber said in a statement. 
“However, the survey data implies that while some parents are purchasing laptops and electronics for high school students, other parents are forgoing the purchase of the latest and greatest new technology for high schoolers who already have late-model devices,” she added.

Meanwhile, 45 percent of those surveyed will spend the same amount as last year on back-to-school shopping and 14 percent will spend more, according to PriceGrabber.

Check Out Line: Consumers getting nervous. Again.


Check Out the latest depressing news about the psyche of U.S. consumers.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index plummeted last month while consulting firm Deloitte said its monthly Consumer Spending Index fell in June for the second consecutive month,as wages and house values again showed weakness. These trends don’t bode well for future shopping. 

“”Real hourly earnings, after experiencing growth in 2009, have deteriorated in 2010 and continue to drag on the Index,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist with Deloitte Research, a part of Deloitte Services LP, and author of the monthly Index.
“The other negative contributor appears in real home prices, which resumed their downward trend after a short, two-month upward climb,” he added.
Deloitte’s index looks at consumers’ cash flow — including tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices — as a proxy for their future spending.