Shop Talk

Retailers, consumers and prices

Check Out Line: The dreaded 10 percent


unemployment1Check out the grim unemployment numbers from the U.S. Labor Department on Friday, a day after dozens of retail chains reported lackluster October sales.

U.S. employers cut a deeper-than-expected 190,000 jobs in October, driving the jobless rate to 10.2 percent, the highest in more than 26 years.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the monthly unemployment rate to edge up to 9.9 percent from 9.8 percent in September.

While job losses have been mounting for months, some analysts and economists say 10 percent unemployment could deal a new psychological blow to U.S. consumers who might previously have felt that the economy was beginning to stabilize.   

Check Out Line: Frugal fatigue?


bootsplaid1Check out what women buy when they get tired of being a frugalista: boots, plaid and outerwear. 

Those were some of the products that helped October U.S. retail sales improve from a year ago, when the unfolding financial meltdown had shoppers fearing a second Great Depression.

The U.S. recession ends, but not for you


unclesambegsTalk about a disconnect.

Experts say U.S. economic growth has returned, signaling the end of the longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression.

But the good news for Wall Street — where shares have been running up — is showing no signs of trickling down to Main Street, where unemployment is flirting with 10 percent, foreclosures continue to rise and record numbers of families now depend on government-issued food stamps to make ends meet.

Check Out Line: Young professionals trimming turkey-time travel, spending


turkey1Check out a survey showing that younger U.S. consumers are trimming travel plans as well as turkeys during Thanksgiving.
More young professionals (37 percent) are adjusting their Thanksgiving travel and spending plans than the affluent and general population (both 30 percent), according to a survey by American Express. Young professionals are defined as less than 30 years old, having a college degree and a minimum annual household income of $50,000.
The young guns also are pulling back in other areas:
* 11 percent of young professionals plan to drive instead of flying, compared to 7 percent of the general population and 6 percent of the affluent, who are defined as having a minimum annual household income of $100,000. 
* 8 percent of young pros plan to shorten their stay for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, compared to the affluent and general population (both 3 percent). 
* 7 percent of young pros will use rewards points, miles and special offers to offset the cost, versus 4 percent of the affluent and 3 percent of the general population.
Overall, American Express found 30 percent of U.S. consumers plan to adjust this year’s travel plans for Thanksgiving — historically one of the busiest travel days of the year — but only 21 percent expect those expenses to decline from last year.
Those who are changing their plans said they will rely more on travel by car, stay for a shorter time and cash in rewards to help pay for holiday trips as they become more selective amid the high unemployment and soft housing market.

However, in a positive sign, sales at U.S. retailers excluding vehicle sales rose for the second straight month in September, raising cautious optimism consumer spending could support the economic recovery.
The American Express survey also showed that the young professionals are cutting back for Halloween, when consumers spent $5.8 billion last year according to the National Retail Federation.
* 36 percent of young pros are buying less expensive costumes and decorations.  The rate is 16 percent among the affluent group and 15 percent among the general population. 

A brighter view doesn’t lead to increased spending


paying-billAmericans may have become more confident in the economy but they haven’t started spending heavily again — and that could be bad new for retailers this holiday season.

Discover’s U.S. Spending Monitor for September rose for the second straight month, climbing 2 points to 89 (based out of 100).  Thirty-three percent of respondents said they felt economic conditions were improving, a Monitor high and a 2-point rise from August.

This year, a Christmas of blue jeans, not Blu-rays


As we mentioned on Shop Talk this morning, the National Retail Federation expects total holiday sales this year to fall 1 percent.

giftThe trade group held a conference call later in the day to add details about their forecast. Here is what NRF spokeswoman Ellen Davis said about the forces that will shape the upcoming holiday shopping season:

Gatorade demand dented by U.S. housing slump


builders11The U.S. housing slump’s impact is well chronicled, but PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said it also has hurt sales of the company’s Gatorade sports drink.

Nooyi — on a conference call with analysts after the maker of Pepsi-Cola and other sodas and Tropicana juices reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit – said she has met with convenience store CEOs who told her the weak U.S. housing market has resulted in fewer construction workers stopping by for sports drinks and other snacks on their way to the job.

Back-to-school spending “not as bad” but job fears weigh – survey


USA-RETAIL/Retail experts don’t expect this back-to-school season to be anything to write home about, as consumers continue to pare back expenses.
But a recent survey cited fewer people cutting back on back-to-school items than last year – 64 percent compared with 71 percent. 
“It’s going to be bad but it’s not going to be as bad,” said Stacy Janiak, vice chairman and U.S. retail leader for Deloitte LLP, which conducted the survey, speaking of spending during the season.
She pointed to data showing that 1 in 7 consumers — 14 percent — believe the economy is starting to recover.
“It was only 14 percent but it was 2 percent last year,” she said. “It’s not a lot for anyone to get optimistic about, by any stretch, but it’s a ray (of hope).”
“People have a sense that we’ve been through the worst of it,” Janiak said, noting that people seem to believe another big drop in the economy unlikely.
Still, the gloom this year is driven more by a desire to save, as well as worries over job losses.
“Last year what was driving people’s concern was these things that would eat into their wallet — higher gas and higher food prices, energy costs,” said Janiak. “This year it’s about what’s in the wallet to begin with — the loss of a job, or fear of that, or intensity on savings to keep what’s in your wallet.” 

Some 22 percent of survey respondents cited “loss of job in household” for their frugality, compared with 12 percent last year, and 17 percent cited “fear of loss of job” compared with 9 percent a year earlier.
In June, Deloitte found that the pace of decline in consumer spending appeared to be abating. Its consumer spending index, which tries to track consumer cash flow to point to future consumer spending, rose in June after falling four consecutive months. 
The U.S. jobless rate hit 9.5 percent last month, the highest in 26 years, and many economists expect it to hit 10 percent this year.
Last week, the National Retail Federation predicted the average U.S. family with kids in school through 12 grade would spend 7.7 percent less than last year, but college students and their families would spend 3 percent more. Nevertheless, overall college spending is expected to decline 4 percent to $30.08 billion due to fewer people planning on attending college this fall.

Check Out Line: Lower discretionary spending at drugstores


walgreen1Check out June same-store sales at drugstore chains.

Walgreen Co and Rite Aid both reported sales at stores open at least a year, pointing to shoppers filling more prescriptions but buying less discretionary summer merchandise. Walgreen said same-store sales in June rose 3.4 percent, while smaller rival Rite Aid saw sales slip 0.6 percent.

Economists and analysts had previously pointed to signs the recession may be nearing an end, but the news is still mixed as the number of jobs cut in June was higher than expected and the unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent.

Heading to the dollar store for groceries?


dollar1Ahead of the recession, dollar stores thought it would be a good idea to try to lure shoppers into their stores more frequently by stocking an increased selection of food. Many of them began installing refrigerated coolers in their stores so they could sell things like eggs, milk and dairy.

More recently Family Dollar added 200 more food products — including a bigger selection of pasta and Kraft salad dressings — to its shelves.