Survey indicates retail improvement and optimism

North Plainfield, N.J. -- Business appears to be improving, according to a survey by Levin Management Corp. The firm conducted the study among its retail tenants in 90 properties.

The mid-year survey, which polled 250 retailers, indicated positive changes year-over-year. At mid-year 2012, 64.2% of respondents reported the same or higher sales volume compared with this time last year; 35.7% reported lower sales. At mid-year 2011, 50.1% of respondents reported the same or higher sales; 49.8% reported lower sales.

At mid-year 2012, 62.9% of respondents said traffic is the same or higher than at this time last year; 36.9% said that fewer consumers are visiting their stores. At mid-year 2011, only 50.4% of respondents reported the same or higher traffic; 49.4% said that traffic was slower.

“This is real, tangible progress,” said Matthew K. Harding, Levin Management’s president and COO. “Last year, we saw a 50/50 split. Half our tenants were experiencing satisfactory sales performance, and the other half had discouraging sales and store traffic. While 2012’s results show we still have a way to go, the numbers clearly have gotten better.”

Levin Management’s mid-year 2012 survey captured a general feeling of optimism among retail tenants, according to Harding. More than nine out of 10 respondents (91.4%) feel that the second half of 2012 will see sales remain at the same level or improve; only 8.5% expect sales to decrease. A notable number, 28.1%, reported higher inventory levels than one year ago. Promotional pricing and markdowns continue to be a key to overall retail marketing: 43.1% of respondents said that these strategies are even more important today than one year ago.

In addition to its annual mid-year survey, Levin Management also conducts surveys prior to and after the winter holidays, tracking retailer expectations and actual performance. The positive mid-year 2012 results are in keeping with the most recent post-holiday findings.

In January, 71.2% of survey respondents reported that their 2011 holiday season traffic was the same or better compared to 2010. Nearly three-quarters of respondents – 73.1% – reported seasonal sales at the same or better level than in 2010. Levin Management’s 2012 mid-year survey also asked tenants about their Memorial Day sales volume. The findings are slightly lower, but still in keeping with post-holiday results; 59.4% reported the same or higher sales compared with last year.

The vast majority (65.9%) of respondents pointed to the economy as the main driver affecting traffic. Fewer reported unseasonable warmth (21%) and gasoline prices (13%) as influencing the number of shoppers visiting their stores. And among those who chose the economy, more than half (52.3%) reported that the impact was negative; only 11.9% cited the economy as beneficial.

For the first time, Levin Management’s mid-year 2012 survey also polled tenants about the impact of Internet sales on their businesses. The majority (60.6%) reported no effect, while 26.8% said the Internet was a positive influence. Only 12.5% said that e-commerce is having a negative impact on store sales.

“In the face of all we read about the growth of internet sales, we found this result to be very interesting,” Harding said. “Internet sales in the first quarter of 2012 represented 4.6% of all retail sales, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Taken together with our survey results, this indicates to us that the impact of the Internet is not equal for all stores or all product categories. Retailers selling expensive commodity items, like large screen TV’s, are, from all reports, feeling the Internet’s impact most.”

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