Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: NRF says Americans plan to get their pumpkin on

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pumpkin1Check out the spending boost planned by Americans for Halloween.

The National Retail Federation said spending by the 148 million Americans who partake in the “spooky” October holiday is expected to surge almost 18 percent this year as revelers look for any reason not to think about high unemployment and a shaky housing market.

“In recent years, Halloween has provided a welcome break from reality, allowing many Americans a chance to escape from the stress the economy has put on their family and incomes,”  NRF CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

“This year, people are expected to embrace Halloween with even more enthusiasm, and will have an entire weekend to celebrate since the holiday falls on a Sunday,” he added. 

Americans will spend an average of $66.28 on costumes, candy and decorations (or a total of $5.8 billion), up from last year’s average of $56.31. However, that is still short of the $66.54 spent in 2008, according to the study conducted by BIGresearch for the NRF. Retailers love Halloween because it comes between the back-to-school and December holidays in luring consumers into stores.

Check Out Line: Surprise, surprise, a discount retailer is doing well

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dg1Check out the strong quarterly profit at discount retailer Dollar General.

The company, which prices most of its merchandise below $10, posted a stronger-than-expected profit thanks to bargain-seeking consumers who spent more per visit. Company executives talked of building sales momentum during the quarter and sales results in the current three-month period were encouraging.

As a result, Dollar General, which has received a boost from high U.S. unemployment rates, raised its full-year earnings forecast.

Check Out Line: Frugality — Part Two?

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shopCheck out the apparent return of the frugalista.

Worries about stubbornly high U.S. unemployment and a tempermental economic recovery has shoppers reeling in spending on all but the essentials.

The 28 retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters reported an overall 2.9 percent rise in July sales at stores open at least one year, missing Wall Street forecasts of 3.1 percent. Seventeen of those retailers reported lower-than-expected sales, while nine — including Macy’s and Kohl’s — beat estimates.

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

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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: Joe High School may have reason to envy younger siblings

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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 PriceGrabber.com, 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: Retailers need to step up the sucking up to consumers

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shopping1Check out an American Express survey that shows that quality service matters more than ever, suggesting U.S. retailers may want to start sucking up to recession-wary consumers even more.
    
Sixty-one percent of Americans polled said quality customer service is more important in today’s tough economy and that they will spend an average of 9 percent more when they think a company is providing that. Important points when some analysts and investors worry the economy may be at risk of dipping back into recession.
    
In a disconnect, however, many businesses seem to be missing the message as 28 percent of those polled believe that companies are paying less attention to good service and 27 percent have not changed their attitudes, according to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer (which sounds like a weather vane for customer service).
 
“Customers want and expect superior service,” AmEx executive vice president Jim Bush said in a statement. “Especially in this tight economic environment, consumers are focused on getting good value for their money. ” 
    
“Many consumers say companies haven’t done enough to improve their approach to service in this economy, and yet it’s clear they’re willing to spend more with those that deliver excellent service – suggesting substantial growth opportunities for businesses that get customer service right,” he added.

Retailers might want to keep all that in mind given the fact that June same-store sales came in slightly below expectations and some analysts see the sector treading water.
    
The survey was conducted in the United States and 11 other countries.
 
In the United States, nine in 10 of those surveyed consider the level of service important when deciding to do business with a company, the survey said. However, only 24 percent believe companies value their business and will go the extra mile to keep it.
    
Contrary to “conventional wisdom,” the survey showed more are inclined to talk about a positive experience (75 percent) than complain about a negative one (59 percent).
    
And consumers said they are far more likely to give a company offering good service repeat business (81 percent) than they are to never do business with a company again after a poor experience (52 percent), according to the poll.
    
However, negative feedback online weighs more heavily as almost half of consumers gather others’ opinions about a company’s customer service reputation and they put greater credence in negative reviews (57 percent) versus positive ones (48 percent), according to AmEx.
    
“Because consumers can broadcast their views so widely online, each and every service interaction a company has with its customers becomes even more crucial,” Bush said. “Developing relationships with customers, listening to them, anticipating their needs, and resolving any issues quickly and courteously can help make the difference.”
    
In fact, 81 percent of Americans have decided never to do business with a company again because of poor customer service in the past, the poll said. Half of those surveyed said it takes two poor service experiences before they stop doing business with a company.
    
However, 86 percent will give a company a second chance after a bad experience if they have historically had great service before, according to the poll.
    
Woe to those who screw the experience up too, as 52 percent of consumers expect something in return after poor service beyond just resolving the problem. Seventy percent want an apology or some form of reimbursement.
    
So retailers, I expect red carpet treatment and a lot of sucking up this recession or you won’t get any of my limited funds!

Check Out Line: Would you like some wine with that weak economy?

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wine1Check out the latest poll on affluent consumers’ spending habits.

Affluent consumers around the world may be worried about the economy, but they are still spending on items they value most: food, wine and dining out, according to a study released by HSBC Global Pulse.

Seventy-two percent of those polled said the amount of wine they drank had not changed in the past year, while 67 percent said their spending on wine was unchanged, HSBC said.

Check Out Line: A better house for tomorrow

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renovate1Check out the renovations being planned by U.S. homeowners this year.

According to an American Express Spending & Saving Tracker poll, 62 percent of homeowners plan to tackle remodeling and renovation projects in 2010 to improve their home’s appearance and value (the top two motivators, respectively). However, many (53 percent) also believe a return to a seller’s market in real estate is not expected for two or more years.

Even with the soft housing market, 85 percent of homeowners consider their home as their most valuable asset and will spend an average of $6,200 to enhance it, according to the monthly study.

Check Out Line: February sales strong despite snow

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Check out the return of the shopper.  Even at Abercrombie & Fitch.

snowSeveral U.S. retailers showed off strong sales gains — albeit over an ugly February 2009 — despite the winter storms that bashed the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and other parts of the United States.

It’s too early to declare a major rebound yet, analysts said, but the sales gains signal that consumers are heading back to stores for more than just the essentials these days.

Deals and discounts in vogue this Valentine’s Day

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rosesAs procrastinators (or those who were too busy shoveling last weekend) head out to find a perfect last-minute gift, they may be happy to hear that less is expected this Valentine’s Day. 

Most consumers in romantic relationships don’t plan to spend much, if anything, on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to a new survey from Accenture. That backs up the findings from a National Retail Federation survey, which found that U.S. couples planned to spend 6 percent less on each other this year.

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