Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Coupon Web sites attracting more visits

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grocery-line.jpgAs consumer prices rise and the economy founders, Web surfers are scouring cyberspace for deals.

A new study released this week by market research firm Hitwise showed that online coupon clipping is on the rise.

Hitwise told Reuters that U.S. visits to certain custom coupon Web sites increased 66 percent from May 2007 to May of this year.

Heather Dougherty, research director at Hitwise, said shoppers are trying to cope with cost of living increases.

Check Out Line: Pier 1 offers to buy Cost Plus

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pier-1.jpgCheck Out Pier 1′s sudden offer to buy Cost Plus for $88.4 million in stock, just as the home decor retailer is trying to cut its own losses from previous quarters by shutting stores, cutting jobs and  spending less on marketing.

Pier 1  said it would issue 0.6 shares of its common stock for each Cost Plus share outstanding. The Texas-based company believes it can seal a deal in the third quarter.

Wal-Mart Proud (insert applause here)

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wal1.jpgUpon entering Wal-Mart Stores annual shareholder meeting, an observer might be forgiven for thinking they had just walked into a lively, national political convention.

Patriotic red and blue buntings covered the 16,000-seat arena at the University of Arkansas, the music hardly stopped and the crowd was treated to a constrant stream of well-tuned public relations bullet points — in this case, sustainability, community relations and saving shoppers money.

Check Out Line: Jobs jolt

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clouds.jpgCheck out the loss of more retail jobs. 

Another 27,000 retail jobs disappeared in May, according to the U.S. government’s monthly employment report. That makes 152,000 retail jobs eliminated since the beginning of the year.
 
Overall, nonfarm payrolls fell by 49,000. But even more worrisome for the economy and for retailers could be the jump in the unemployment rate to 5.5 percent. That half-point jump was the largest such move in 22 years and brought the unemployment rate to its highest level in 3-1/2 years.
 
Retailer’s May sales reports yesterday were mostly better than expected, causing some analysts to think they could signal the beginning of a consumer turnaround.
 
But others said it just showed a blip in spending that was caused by the tax rebate checks consumers have begun to receive. 
 
Economic concerns could still linger after all that stimulus money is gone, they say, and things could get worse if consumers, already hit by $4-a-gallon gasoline, soaring food prices and falling home values really start to worry about their jobs.

Wonder how a half-point jump in the unemployment number plays into that?
 
Meanwhile, to take your mind of the jobs report, there’s always the company pep rally that masquerades as the Wal-Mart annual meeting. The world’s-largest retailer flies in employees from all around the world to help pack the basketball arena at the shopper1.jpgUniversity of Arkansas, where stars entertain the crowd (this year’s acts include Miley Cyrus), everybody does the Wal-Mart cheer, and, oh yeah, shareholders get to ask questions.
 
Also in the basket:
 
New Wal-Mart director may herald changing of the guard (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
 
Target grows makeup artist brands, adds testers (WWD)

Check Out Line: Even Neiman Marcus feels the pinch

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bergdorf.jpgCheck Out lower quarterly results at Neiman Marcus — the latest in a string of results proving that high-end stores are running into the same trouble as their lower-tier peers.  

The company, known for its namesake and Bergdorf Goodman stores, said on Wednesday that quarterly sales fell almost 1 percent to $1.06 billion, while net profit fell nearly 7 percent to $55.4 million.

Room for home improvement retail

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acesmall.gifHome improvement consumers have spoken, and their choice of top retailer might surprise you.

Ace Hardware, the hardware cooperative with 4,600 stores, ranked highest in home improvement customer satisfaction for the second straight year, according to a J.D. Power and Associates study.

Thank you… come again

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tiffany1.jpgNo, really. That is what Tiffany executives must think, looking at the sea of tourists at its fabled flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

Eclipsing a 4-percent drop in same-store sales in its other stores, the New York store posted a 16-percent rise.

Analyst puzzles over Sears’ higher EBITDA plans

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sears.jpgSears Holdings Corp reported a quarterly loss this morning. But the thing that left analysts like Credit Suisse’s Gary Balter scratching their heads was the company’s expectations for higher earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the full year.

“We are struggling with what we are missing in the context of Q1 being down over $385 million in EBITDA and other comments in the release that talk about the expected difficult sales and gross margin environment,” Balter said in his research note.

Check Out Line: Macy’s posts sort-of profit

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macys.jpgCheck out Macy’s profit, or loss, depending on how you count.
 
The department store operator posted a $59 million loss in the first quarter, hurt by a drop in sales and the costs of restructuring.
 
So of course its stocks jumped.
 
Restructuring charges are seen by the investment community as “one-time items” and are generally disregarded when looking at how well a company did in any given quarter. 
 
So without ”one-time items” Macy’s posted a profit of 2 cents a share from continuing operations. That was better than the 2-cents-a-share loss that analysts expected.
 
Macy’s also affirmed its forecast for a profit of $1.85 to $2.15 a share for the year, possibly a sign that things at least are not getting worse for the company, which, like most department store operators, has been hurt by the slumping U.S. economy.
 
Of course, that forecast excludes “one-time” items.
 
Also in the basket:
 
Barney’s Socol quits, no clear successor (WWD)
 
Benetton Q1 profit, sales up, outlook confirmed

(Photo: Reuters)

Check Out Line: Discounting the discounter

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wmt.jpgCheck out Wal-Mart’s earnings.

The world’s largest retailer posted a 7 percent rise in quarterly profits.

But even as the discounter drew cash-strapped consumers looking to save money, the company also indicated that it could miss second-quarter earnings estimates, which pressured its stock price in the morning.

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