Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Women cut back more than men, survey says

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Gender differences are playing out at stores and restaurants across the country, economically speaking.

shopping bagMore women than men cut spending “moderately to significantly” last year – 72 percent of women versus 62 percent of men – according to a new survey being released by Empathica.

“The fact is women still bear more of the responsibility for households than men,” and are being “more cautious” about their spending outlook, said Gary Edwards, Empathica’s vice president of client services.

The amount people cut back did not surprise Richard Hastings, consumer strategist with Global Hunter Securities LLC. What matters for merchants, brands and marketing analysis is the “enduring nature of this attitude,” he said.

Check Out Line: A Black Friday extravaganza!

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HOLIDAYSALES/Today’s a serious shopping day for serious shoppers.

Black Friday is no longer a sport for the leisurely shopper. From our late-night rounds, it became clear that people were lining up all over in the dead of night (and some earlier than that!) not just for the fun of it but out of necessity.

While many of the stoutest shoppers were grimly determined to get their deals and get out, there was some fun and holiday cheer.

Check Out Line: Spending Still Down

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Check Out unemployment’s strain on consumers’ wallets.

holidayThis is not what retailers want to hear on the day before Christmas, but evidence continues to mount that consumers are cutting back spending.

The U.S. Commerce Department said consumer spending contracted 0.6 percent in November, the fifth-straight monthly fall. Incomes shrank 0.2 percent. A separate report showed initial claims for jobless benefits last week reached the highest level in 26 years.

Check Out Line: Christmas, anyone?

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scrooge.jpgCheck out the holiday cheer coming from Hasbro’s CEO.
 
Remember when everyone said luxury stocks were more immune to a recession? That was before the housing slump, the credit crisis and the meltdown on Wall Street. Now the Dow Jones Luxury Index is down 52 percent from a year ago.
 
Remember when food companies said they were a little less vulnerable to an economic downturn because people still have to eat? Well, people still need to eat, but lower-priced store brands have been taking market share and food shares, as demonstrated by the Standard & Poor’s Packaged Foods index falling 11 percent in the past three weeks.
 
Well, now the next test case might be the idea that people will still keep spending on toys for their children during Christmas.

“We still believe that Christmas will come for consumers and retailers this year and our retailers have agreed that toys and games are more recession resistant than other discretionary spending categories,” Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said during a conference call with analysts.
 
Hasbro beat analysts quarterly profit estimates, while higher costs caused Mattel to miss.
 
But what kind of Christmas will it be? Christmas came for the Cratchits in “A Christmas Carol,” but while it was full of good feeling and cheer, it was a tad light on presents, at least before Scrooge had his epiphany.
 
Will Christmas for toymakers be commercial, or Dickensian?
 
Also in the basket:
 
U.N. agency says crisis to cost 20 million jobs
 
Circuit City weighs broad cuts (WSJ, subscription required)
 
Adrenalina bids for PacSun (WWD, subscription required)

Check Out Line: What was the real bubble?

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clouds.jpgCheck out the stocks bouncing back.
 
The Dow is up more than 4 percent. Retail stocks are up nearly as much.
 
Governments are pouring money in to help bail out banks, the market is reacting favorably and all is right with the world, right?
 
Well, probably not. Reuters columnist James Saft argues that the bubble in the economy was not just in real estate, but also in consumption.
 
The bursting of that consumption bubble is already hurting retailers, of course.  Just look at last week’s sales numbers.
 
The New York Times also points out that the one reliable bastion of conspicuous consumption, teenagers, is also having to pull back on spending.
 
As we all embrace the simple life, the problems for retail could well continue. After all, there weren’t a lot of Hollister jeans and big screen TVs on Walden Pond.
 
Also in the basket:
 
Sears names GE executive as CFO elect
 
Sharper Image focuses on expanding globally (N.Y. Post)

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: Sales weakness? It’s a gas

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gas.jpgCheck out sluggish sales and high gasoline prices.
 
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, chain-store sales were flat in the week ending May 24, compared with a week earlier, and were up only 1.5 percent year-over-year.
 
“Consumers remain cautious in their discretionary spending as a result of the record high gasoline prices,” said Michael Niemira, ICSC chief economist.
 
Gas costs cutting into consumer discretionary spending isn’t a new thought. But ICSC takes a stab at quantifying the effect, estimating that current gas prices — well over $4 a gallon in some places — are cutting demand at chain stores by nearly 1 percentage point.
 
Niemira also said a consumer tax rebate tracking survey is showing a “low propensity” to spend the recent tax rebate checks. That stimulus package might not be so stimulating.
 
Some retailers have been able to manage through the weakness. American Eagle Outfitters, for example, used cost-cutting and inventory reductions to post better-than-expected first quarter profit on Wednesday.
 
Others have have had more difficulty. Chico’s posted a sharp drop in quarterly profit, the latest example of weakness in  the women’s apparel sector.
 
Also in the basket:
 
Lululemon’s incoming CEO advocates measured mantra (WWD)
 
Polo Ralph Lauren profit tops view; shares jump
 
Dollar Tree profit rises more than 14 percent
 
Coca-Cola Enterprises sees 2nd-qtr profit down
 
For Coors Light, a Night Out That Begins on MySpace (N.Y. Times)

 (Photo: Reuters)

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