Retailers, consumers and prices
As the 2012 race to the holidays kicks off, shoppers in America are experiencing economic sobriety. With 23 million people still looking for work, home prices still down, and those with jobs holding little hope for salary increases, the season is shaping up as a time of controlled spending. Without question, consumer purchases will be made through a lens of affordability.
Still, in the past few weeks I have visited with small groups of shoppers in California, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans, northern Pennsylvania, and finally New York City; I found a consensus of hope as the holiday season approaches, and a feeling of thanks at having survived another tough year.
American consumers have grown tired of continuing signs of economic uncertainty. My conversations with American shoppers, as well as earlier consumer research by Booz & Company, indicated several changes that will set the stage for a holiday season that’s focused on affordability:
1. In almost all of our conversations we asked the following question “What will be different about this holiday season over past seasons?” The overwhelming response was bringing together family and friends to celebrate.
Check out the latest attempt by a U.S. retailer to win shoppers ahead of the key holiday shopping season.
Toys R Us is planning to open about 600 pop-up stores in malls and shopping centers around the United States this Christmas season. That is more than six times what the world’s largest dedicated toy retailer opened last year. Many of those nearly 90 Toys R Us Express locations have remained open through 2010.
Check out what has emerged as a hot online search term as the days remaining to buy holiday gifts quickly dwindle.
According to Hitwise, last week searches for store locators reached their second highest peak since the week of Thanksgiving and Black Friday. For the week ending Dec. 12, searches for store locators jumped 77 percent.
Written by Tom Hals
As its rivals plan aggressive discounts on flat-panel TVs and round the clock hours to lure in recession-weary shoppers, Kmart is sticking with what worked, even if it is what worked 40 years ago.
Chief Marketing Officer Mark Snyder, who joined the company last year just before the holiday season, said the chain had no major new initiatives this year but plans to “build on the successes” of 2008.
In other words, a fresh spin on layaway plans and Blue Light Specials, and of course the deep discount days that are a retailing standard this time of year.
One new offering includes a Christmas club, a staple of 1950s household budgeting that only deepens the impression that Kmart is rushing into its past to find the future.
The goal is to help households crushed by mounting debt to “leverage their cash,” or in other words, pay when credit is no longer available, he told us.
The chain may be onto something. Kmart’s same-store sales for the quarter ended Oct. 31 rose 0.5 percent, only the second quarterly increase it has posted since 2001.
A recent visit to a Pennsylvania Kmart did not turn up any blaring lights or calls of “attention Kmart shoppers.” It did show that some elements of Kmart’s past are more easily forgotten.
Asked by this reporter, the outgoing and helpful staff tried to locate Martha Stewart-branded housewares, possibly the last as their long-standing partnership ends this year.
Another member of staff joined the hunt until a manager reminded everyone that Martha Stewart’s final inventory was sold out the week before, not with blue lights but helped by clearance prices. Like those found at Wal-Mart.
On Friday morning, AnnTaylor Stores reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue and gave a cautious forecast for the current holiday quarter.
American Express found that 10 percent of consumers actually expect to spend more on holiday gifts versus last year, while 43 percent plan to spend about the same as they did in 2008.
The third monthly online American Express Spending & Saving Tracker asked 2,011 adults about the economy, what they plan to spend on and what motivates them to spend or save.
When given the choice, only 13 percent said they have a “gloomy” attitude going into the holiday season, while 41 percent said they were “joyful.”
Most were feeling a bit generous, with 63 percent planning on some type of charitable giving over the holidays, even though 54 percent said that they would be cutting back on how many gifts they buy due to the economy.
Now, it is taking its effort to reach potential holiday shoppers beyond its typical TV or print ads.
Staples may not be the first place people think of to do their Christmas shopping, but the office supplies retailer is trying to drive traffic to its stores and website with promotions ranging from free shipping and value-priced gifts to laptop giveaways.
Starting on Nov. 30, the first Monday of the official holiday shopping season — dubbed “Cyber Monday” since many people use the first day back at work to shop online — Staples will give away a $1,000 technology bundle that includes an HP Laptop computer, every day.
Retailers, listen up. A survey from Discover shows that more consumers believe economic conditions are still getting worse.
Discover’s U.S. Spending Monitor for October fell 3.2 points to 85.8 (that’s out of 100, which is where the index started in May 2007).
Forty-six percent felt economic conditions were getting worse. That’s up 3 points from September and the first time the survey has seen an increase since July.
Slightly more women (58 percent) than men (53 percent) rated the economy as poor. Overall, 56 percent called the economy poor, up from 52 percent in September.
“The Monitor has always shown that women tend to be less optimistic than men about the economy and their finances,” said Julie Loeger, senior vice president of brand and product management for Discover. “But the record jump in the number of women rating the economy as poor and the pessimism over the current state of their finances may indicate a weak holiday shopping season ahead.”