Customer Growth Partners Forecasts Humbug Holiday Sales, With Anemic 2.9% Retail Growth
By Craig Johnson, president, Customer Growth Partners
Continuing a two-year slide in retail spending momentum, American consumers will generate only a lackluster 2.9% year-over-year increase in holiday sales, the slowest pace since the recession, according to Customer Growth Partners’ 13th Annual Holiday Forecast. Retail sales for the November-December Holiday period will reach $575 billion — a new record, but the anemic 2.9% growth represents further slowing from the robust Holiday 5.1% pace in 2011 and 3.8% last year. [ CGP’s Holiday forecast is based on DOC/Census definitions, excludes autos/auto Parts, gasoline/oil, and restaurants; unlike some forecasts, e-commerce sales are included.]
Contrary to conventional wisdom, most shoppers are tuning out the noise coming from Washington, and are continuing to spend at the same pace as prior to the government shutdown. Unfortunately, the pace of retail spending was sluggish well before the partial shutdown, and remains so now.
CGP maintains a 15-member nationwide field team that conducts primary research and detailed store checks in over 50 major shopping venues. Based on findings from the back-to-school season and now through most of October, there has been no significant impact on retail sales — which were already stagnant, reflecting an apparel-focused slowdown after the 4th of July, and a further step down after Labor Day, affecting all categories, including big ticket items. In the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, store raw traffic levels edged down in the first half of October, but the number and size of transactions showed no significant change. Only a few company standouts bucked the retail downdraft, such as Apple with its sell-out iPhone 5s model.
The key drivers behind the retail weakness are lagging income growth, and the declining share of the population with full-time jobs. The most recent government data show that real disposable personal income has been rising only an abysmal 0.7%, in contrast to growth rates of about 3.7% in the mid-2000s, when the Retail industry enjoyed its healthiest growth of this new century.
Relatedly, barely 47.5% of the working age population now holds a full-time job, the lowest in decades, and down from 54% as recently as 2006. In addition to depressing overall retail expenditures, the shift to a ‘part-time economy’ has caused spending to rotate from discretionary categories to non-discretionary goods. Households with full-time jobs spend against both needs and wants — but consumers with part-time jobs spend only against needs.
Other key findings of CGP’s annual Holiday forecast include:
- E-commerce/Direct-to-consumer sales are decelerating, after two decades of double-digit growth, to just under 10% at Holiday 2013 — but will comprise 15% of total sales;
- Among merchandise categories, home improvement sector sales will outpace other sectors with growth of 4.1% YOY, reflecting the housing recovery — but slower than the 10% pace earlier in the year, mirroring the current pause in the housing rebound;
- Apparel sales will lag the already sluggish growth levels, with YOY growth of only 2.6%, down from 4.2% holiday growth last year; and
- Consumer electronics and appliances will be weak, with growth under 1%, despite the new generation of tablets, smartphones and videogame consoles — due to the weakness in big-ticket purchases, rampant TV price compression, and cannibalization of laptops, digital cameras and other products resulting from the growth of tablets and phones.
In short, consumers — at least those with full-time jobs — will still do their Christmas shopping this year, but at a smaller and slower pace than the last few years. For retailers, particularly those dependent on solid discretionary spending, however, this will be a ‘Humbug Holiday’ — the worst since the recession — and more so for stores who placed their Holiday orders earlier in the year, when sales were still healthy.
Holiday 2013 will mark the first time that retailers see an actual decline in store productivity per square foot since the recession, by about 1%. And, because of the steep promotional pace this year, earnings will be weak, leading to a decline in “TOP” ratios, the true operating earnings generated per square foot, an even worse sign. The Grinch may not steal Christmas, but he may spoil it for a lot of retailers.”
Craig Johnson is president of Customer Growth Partners, a consulting and research firm serving the retail and other consumer industries. Johnson has 30 years of experience in market research and demand forecasting, has testified as an expert witness on forecasting and economic issues, has spoken and published worldwide on consumer trends, and appears frequently in the media. CGP’s 15-member field team conducts primary research weekly in over 50 major shopping venues coast to coast.
OfficeMax to open most locations at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day
OfficeMax has joined the growing list of retailers that plan on opening most of its stores at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, ahead of Black Friday. The office supplies, technology and business services retailer will entice consumers with doorbuster deals and significant Black Friday savings at OfficeMax.com starting at 12:01 a.m. EST Thanksgiving morning.
The OfficeMax Black Friday shopping event will run through Saturday, Nov. 30, in stores and online.
"Black Friday shopping has become a celebrated and cherished tradition nationwide, and we know that many customers want to get a head start on the savings as part of their holiday festivities," said Michael Lewis, executive vice president and president of retail at OfficeMax. "We’re opening our doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving to help make OfficeMax among the first stops in the holiday shopping tradition."
"We’re bringing Black Friday deals earlier to our stores and online to help shoppers save even more on must-have holiday gifts, while providing them with a convenient, fun and stress-free shopping experience," added Jim Barr, executive vice president and chief digital officer at OfficeMax. "We’re excited to unveil OfficeMax’s big Black Friday deals that shoppers can purchase either in-store or at OfficeMax.com, and we look forward to continuing to deliver great savings all season long."
OfficeMax, which operates more than 900 stores in the U.S. and Mexico, will be offering sales on mobile technology and accessories, among other consumer electronics offerings.
Q2 same-store sales drop at Hhgregg
A decrease in same-store sales in the consumer electronics and computing and wireless categories at Hhgregg, partially offset by an increase in the appliance and home products categories, resulted in a comparable-store sales decrease of 6.2% for the second quarter ended Sept. 30.
The appliance category comparable-store sales increase was driven by an increase in the average selling price. The home products category comparable-store sales increase was primarily a result of sales from the introduction of furniture and fitness equipment.
The consumer electronics category comparable-store sales decline was driven primarily by a double-digit comparable-store sales decrease in televisions, largely resulting from the company’s strategy of offering fewer entry-level models. The computing and wireless category comparable-store sales decrease was led by a decline in sales of mobile phones and notebook computers, partially offset by the continuing increased demand for tablets.
The company’s comparable-store sales decrease resulted in net sales of $568.3 million for the quarter, a decrease of 3.3% from $587.6 million in the prior-year period.
“Though we continue to see headwinds in our consumer electronics business, we are pleased with our ninth consecutive quarter of comparable store sales increases in the appliance category,” said president and CEO Dennis May, highlighting the positive. “Additionally, we are pleased with the completion of our sales floor reset and the progress made with our other initiatives aimed at the long term success of transforming our retail strategy. We have continued to make investments in our business, including the expansion of our consumer credit capabilities, with a seamless secondary credit option, and enhancements to our website. While pleased with our early efforts in reshaping our sales mix, our sales performance continues to demonstrate that this transition will take time as we introduce new products to offset the sales losses from the consumer electronics category.”
The company is looking ahead and preparing for the holiday season by focusing on hiring and training staff and resetting its sales floor, which includes an expanded focus of premium televisions and an expanded furniture offering.
Hhgregg currently operates 228 stores in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.