Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: Cost cutting your way to a better day


cut1Check out how cost cutting helped Whirlpool.

The world’s biggest appliance maker used cost cuts to offset weak sales as it reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit. Whirlpool also raised its full-year profit outlook, citing downsizing and — yes, you guessed it — cost cuts as demand remains uncertain in many markets.

Sales at appliance makers like Whirlpool, known for its Maytag and KitchenAid brands, and Sweden’s Electrolux have suffered in the global economic slowdown as consumers trim spending on items not deemed essential.

Whirlpool’s recent cost cutting actions have included plant closures, consolidation of its Chinese operations, lower retirement plan contributions, frozen salaries and lower capital spending.

Also in the basket:

Fortune Brands profit tops Street view

Cache posts wider-than-expected Q3 loss; sees Q4 profit

Wal-Mart shrinks US supercenters, sees tepid sales

Long lines as Microsoft opens retail store

Amazon soars above Street view, shares skyrocket

(Reuters photo)

Check Out Line: Young professionals trimming turkey-time travel, spending


turkey1Check out a survey showing that younger U.S. consumers are trimming travel plans as well as turkeys during Thanksgiving.
More young professionals (37 percent) are adjusting their Thanksgiving travel and spending plans than the affluent and general population (both 30 percent), according to a survey by American Express. Young professionals are defined as less than 30 years old, having a college degree and a minimum annual household income of $50,000.
The young guns also are pulling back in other areas:
* 11 percent of young professionals plan to drive instead of flying, compared to 7 percent of the general population and 6 percent of the affluent, who are defined as having a minimum annual household income of $100,000. 
* 8 percent of young pros plan to shorten their stay for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, compared to the affluent and general population (both 3 percent). 
* 7 percent of young pros will use rewards points, miles and special offers to offset the cost, versus 4 percent of the affluent and 3 percent of the general population.
Overall, American Express found 30 percent of U.S. consumers plan to adjust this year’s travel plans for Thanksgiving — historically one of the busiest travel days of the year — but only 21 percent expect those expenses to decline from last year.
Those who are changing their plans said they will rely more on travel by car, stay for a shorter time and cash in rewards to help pay for holiday trips as they become more selective amid the high unemployment and soft housing market.

However, in a positive sign, sales at U.S. retailers excluding vehicle sales rose for the second straight month in September, raising cautious optimism consumer spending could support the economic recovery.
The American Express survey also showed that the young professionals are cutting back for Halloween, when consumers spent $5.8 billion last year according to the National Retail Federation.
* 36 percent of young pros are buying less expensive costumes and decorations.  The rate is 16 percent among the affluent group and 15 percent among the general population. 

Check Out Line: September surprise for retailers


shop1Check out the unexpected increase in September same-store sales at U.S. retailers.

Providing hope that demand may be improving ahead of the holiday shopping season, retailers posted a surprise 0.6 percent increase last month in stores open at least a year, instead of the 1.1 percent decline analysts had expected.

NHL teams put freeze on ticket prices


caps1National Hockey League teams put the freeze on ticket prices this season.

The average price for general tickets in the NHL ticked up just 0.1 percent to $51.41, according to Team Marketing Report (TMR), a sports marketing firm that tracks ticket costs in the major North American sports leagues. After adjusting Canadian prices to current exchange rates, the average cost of a ticket rose by just 5 cents.  

In the previous three years, the average NHL ticket cost rose 5.1 percent (2008-2009), 7.7 percent (2007-2008) and 3.7 percent (2006-2007), TMR said.

Check Out Line: Look for the (private) label


shop12Check out consumers’ continued taste for private label items.

In the past 12 months, private label’s unit and dollar share of the U.S. market have grown, according to a report by research firm Information Resources Inc. Unit share grew 1.2 points to 22.8 percent, while dollar share inched up 0.7 points to 17.6 percent.

“The popularity of private brands will continue as a result of several factors,” IRI Consulting and Innovation President Thom Blischok said in the statement. “These products offer a very strong value proposition based on quality as well as price. In addition, shoppers will continue their frugal shopping patterns long after the recession ends. And, retailers’ increasingly sophisticated private brand strategies will attract a larger and more diverse shopper base.”

Check Out Line: Tastes great, less costly!


shop1Check out Consumer Reports’ latest taste test.

The magazine found that 23 store-brand foods tasted as good as or better than their big national brand competitors in blind tests of 29 food products.  The store-brand foods tested cost an average of 27 percent less than their big-name counterparts, allowing consumers to trim their shopping bills. 

“Our tests should erase any lingering doubts that store-brand packaged goods aren’t at least worth a try. In many cases, you’ll save money without compromising on quality,” Tod Marks, senior project editor for Consumer Reports Shopping, said in a statement.

Check Out Line: Sales tax holidays a political gimmick


shop12Check out a study  that calls sales tax holidays poor tax policy.

With a number of states wrapping up back-to-school sales tax holidays, the Tax Foundation, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization that monitors fiscal policy at the federal, state and local levels, called such exemptions “nothing more than political gimmicks that do little to help consumers.”

The Tax Foundation said such ”holidays,” which the group said amount to a 4 to 7 percent price reduction for consumers for only a brief period, simply favor certain industries over others and increase tax code complexity. In some cases, some retailers simply raise prices during a “holiday,” effectively absorbing the benefit, the group said.

Check Out Line: Earnings-palooza!


macys1Check out all the earnings in the consumer world.

Several retailers and food companies posted quarterly results, offering different views on where they stand in a recession that has consumers dialing back spending.

Macy’s posted a better-than-expected profit as it cut costs, but the department store operator’s new, higher earnings forecast shows full-year profit could still fall short of analysts’ expectations.

Check Out Line: Consumer optimism fizzles in summer heat


shop11Check out the recession-battered consumer in a new Discover survey.

Consumer attitudes continue to weaken according to Discover’s U.S. Spending Monitor for July, as results fell for the second consecutive month to 83.5 (out of 100) from 85.6.

Translation: Growing pessimism about the economy and personal finances has more consumers planning overall spending cuts.

Check Out Line: More bad news for U.S. retailers in July


target11Check out the expected drop in July same-store sales for U.S. retailers.

July typically offers retailers a chance to bolster second-quarter profits by selling new autumn merchandise, but they likely got little boost this year from back-to-school sales as cool weather, a weak job market and a lack of tax-free holidays has analysts expecting an 11th consecutive drop in monthly same-store sales.

Consumers have shown a penchant for skipping full-price items to stretch their budgets amid the recession.