Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: Hanging at the mall not so fun

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shopCheck out how consumers feel about shopping at malls.

Auto dealers and reporters are popular targets for hate mail. But mall operators may have reason to fear joining them if a new study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and the Verde Group, a market research consultancy, is to be believed.

Almost eight of every 10 people surveyed faced a problem at the mall, citing such issues as a limited choice of places to eat, lack of variety of stores, parking difficulties and a shortage of restrooms.

But keeping shoppers happy will be critical this holiday shopping season.

U.S. consumers, who spend an average of $150 per mall visit according to the study, have curtailed shopping due to the recession, the weak U.S. housing market and high food costs, raising concerns about holiday sales. More and more people are scared about their jobs — another factor in the spending slowdown.

“These findings should be a call to action for mall developers who are failing to quench this thirst for excitement,” said Wharton Professor Stephen Hoch in a statement. “Malls can’t be mundane in this economic climate.”

Check Out Line: Retailers hope to lure with Cyber Monday deals

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Check Out the online deals planned for next Monday.

Most online shops are touting special promotions for Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving when, admit it, you use your high-speed Internet connection at work to check out sales.  This year’s promotions — including a lot of free shipping — are crucial as retailers try to lure in shoppers who have been pulling back on spending ahead of the traditional holiday selling season.
 
SpendingPulse said Sunday that U.S. sales of everything from apparel to appliances plunged in the first two weeks of November, as consumers are cutting back on everything but necessities in this tough economy.  
 
Nearly 84 percent of online retailers plan to have a Cyber Monday promotion, up from 72 percent who planned Cyber Monday deals last year, according to a survey by online shopping site Shopzilla for Shop.org, the Internet division of the National Retail Federation.

In early November, Internet sales did not perform as poorly as the overall lot, according to SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors, an arm of MasterCard Worldwide.  Online sales showed the most modest decline of the period, at 7.5 percent. 

Invasion of the Heat-Techies

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At first glance, it looked like a sci-fi movie shoot: Smack in the middle of Military Island in New York’s Times Square, men in silver bodysuits wielded cameras that looked like the offspring of a hair dryer and a cop’s “radar gun.” 
 
One by one, New Yorkers in stocking caps, bulky down jackets and all sorts of cold weather gear stepped out of a long line to let one of the camera-happy silver-clad guys –  known as the Heat-Techies — scan their bodies for cold spots. The results popped up on a flat-screen color monitor.  
 
What on earth would be worth a long wait in the cold?  
Free high-tech clothes that lock in your body heat, that’s what!  
 
Yes, step right up, folks, in front of the Human Vending Machine — a silver booth with two oval windows and vending machine slots marked “men” and “women.” Behind each window, a man and a woman danced with robotic moves and dropped a box with a HEATTECH garment in the person’s size through the vending machine slot.  
  
Members of the New York Bicycle Messengers Association got an alert about the event and many of them showed up at 6 a.m. on Tuesday to get in line for the free clothes. The high-tech duds were given away as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign by Uniqlo, a Japanese retailer known for its inexpensive and colorful basic clothing like T-shirts, V-neck tops, turtleneck sweaters and camisoles. (The HEATTECH items start at $10.50 each in Uniqlo’s Soho store in New York.)  
  
“I’m out here in the weather, when it’s 20 degrees or colder, and so I decided, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get me some,’” said Anthony Rice, a New York bicycle messenger who’s known by his nickname, “Ninja.”  

In fact, bicycle messengers like “Ninja” and his friend “Julian,” whose given name is Jose Morales, were among those allowed to cut to the front of the line.  
 
“I was on 34th Street with my buddy when he told me about this, so I’m like ‘sure’ and rode on down with him,” Morales said. “I’m out in all kinds of weather.”  
 
Shin Odake, chief operating officer and acting CEO of Uniqlo USA, said the HEATTECH garments were designed jointly by his company, owned by Fast Retailing Co, and Toray, one of Japan’s leading manufacturers of chemicals, fibers and textiles.  
 
“There’s a special molecule that keeps your body heat contained in the fabric,” he told Reuters. “It’s tightly woven. If you sweat, it turns the moisture into body heat.” The high-tech blend of fibers includes milk proteins to moisturize the skin, he noted.  
Next stops for the Heat-Techies and their Human Vending Machine: London, Paris, Beijing and Seoul.  
 

Check Out Line: Weak economy keeps socking it to retailers

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Check out the lower expectations in the retail world.

Discount retailer Target Corp rang up its fifth consecutive lower quarterly profit, suspended almost all of its share buyback program and cut capital spending plans as cash-strapped consumers shifted away from its trendy merchandise to staples like food and toiletries.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s Companies, the No. 2 home improvement retailer, posted a lower profit, but even worse cut its fourth-quarter profit forecast below Wall Street’s expectations, citing rising unemployment, falling home prices and tight credit as reasons homeowners are putting off some renovations and purchases.

Kmart cites boost from early deals, layaway

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Retailer Kmart says early Black Friday specials and its layaway plan are generating interest from consumers who want to stretch their dollars this holiday season.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally marks the start of holiday shopping.

Check Out Line: More jobs down the (Whirlpool) drain

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Check out the Whirlpool of woe.
 
Five thousand. That’s the number of jobs Whirlpool plans to cut by the end of next year as it faces falling sales in North America and a potential global recession.
 
Appliance makers have already been hammered by the U.S. housing collapse. Now the credit crunch is likely to keep demand down, the world’s largest appliance maker said.
 
“The global credit crisis has had a profound negative impact on what was already a weakening and very fragile global economy,” Whirlpool Chief Executive Jeff Fettig (pictured left) said in a statement.
 
Some of the job cuts had already been announced. Others were new. They all add to a slew of job cuts announced by corporate America in recent weeks.
 
That creates a spiral of people not being able to buy the goods the manufacturers make, which could cause manufacturers to cut more jobs as the economy keeps swirling down the drain.
 
Also in the basket:
 
Sam’s Club opening new store called Mas Club
 
Retailers slash Blu-ray player prices (WSJ

Pershing to unveil suggested Target “transaction”

Wal-Mart cutting US store openings further

Wal-Mart says ‘relentlessly’ non-partisan in US election 

(Photo: Reuters)

Check Out Line: Mother Nature matters more than ever

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rain2.jpgCheck out the cool and wet weather that hit U.S. retailers in September as the month will go into the books as the fifth coolest in the last seven years and much cooler than last year, according to Planalytics Inc, a business weather tracking company.

While the mean September temperature in the 96 largest U.S. metro areas fell about 4 points from last year to 64.2 degrees, retailers selling rainwear (demand up 29 percent based purely on weather), pants (up 13 percent), dehumidifiers (up 10 percent) and hot cereal (up 2 percent) benefited, Planalytics said.

Check Out Line: Talbots’ makeover includes board

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talbots3.jpgCheck out the majority owner of Talbots exerting more control.

The women’s apparel retailer, which has endured hardships in recent months including falling sales, job cuts, an executive departure and a credit problem, said on Thursday that Tsutomu Kajita would become chairman of its board.

Kajita is senior vice president of international operations for Japan’s Aeon Co, Talbots’ majority owner.

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