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The Nielsen Company is out with new consumer research about shopping habits in February 2010. Among the findings:

“The recession continues its ravaging effect on retailers ... the downward trend of consumers shopping less hit a new low in February 2010, reporting a 4% year over-year decline in monthly all-outlet shopping trips.”

“While per trip shopping basket rings began to pick up during and after the holidays, February remained static with a 1% increase compared to last year. Retailers’ focus on store brands and retail price cuts helped keep spending levels in check driving more value for shoppers.”

“A closer look at monthly shopping trips shows that trends have virtually flat-lined in total and across all major retail channels. Grocery stores have been shopped two plus times more often than competitive retail channels.”

“Other Nielsen trends show that consumers are not shopping more stores looking for deals as consumers consistently shopped fewer retailers each period in 2009 than they did in 2008. It is a tough market and breathing life into a different retail environment will take new strategies that keep shoppers satisfied and spending while they are in the store.”

“As consumers are eating in more and out less, retailers are converting lost restaurant trips into grocery trips. And while grocery trips were up in the last eight of twelve periods ending February 2010, trips in the last four months are down. Value channels such as dollar stores, warehouse clubs and supercenters have fared the best showing growth in most periods in the last year and one-half.”

“Only supercenters and club stores had positive trip growth in each period in 2009. Both, however, declined slightly in 2010 as consumer confidence remained low and poor weather conditions plagued major population centers.”
KC's View:
I sort of get the feeling that at some level, a lot of shoppers are sort of in a holding pattern. They adjusted their habits when the recession hit, they’re getting maybe a little more confidence but not so much that they’re making any big leaps...there is real worry that the bottom could fall out of the economy yet again, and it is going to take time for that feeling to go away.

What this means, I think, is that smart retailers will find this to be a good time to get aggressive...to either open new stores or come up with new offerings that will appeal to shoppers. Nielsen’s Todd Hale says in the report that retailers need to
“satisfy loyal shoppers with savings linked to shopping frequency and spending levels,” and “offer value and low prices, but more important, stake a claim to at least one or two points of differentiation to maintain a competitive advantage.”

Most retailers have found ways to offer low prices, or at least the illusion of low prices. The other points of differentiation are harder to achieve...but in the long run, I believe, will be far more important to sustainable success.