Sunday, November 29, 2009

With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Twas the eve'n after Turkey Day and all through the mall,
There were creatures a-stirring, but not buying all.
The discounts were posted in the stores with care,
In hopes that the shoppers soon would be there.

The security teams were nestled all snug at their posts,
While visions of safety were bigger than most.
Shoppers in PJs, some with hot plates,
Had just settled in for a cold morning's wait.

When out in the parking lot there arose such a clatter,
Security sprang to attention to see what was the matter.
Away to stores I flew like a flash,
Held on to my credit cards, I'd only pay cash.

The fluorescent lights gleamed on the newly arrived stuff,
Gave a glimmer of hope to the retailers who'd had it so tough.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a whole slew of shoppers, with Christmas lists for those dear.
They clutched at the flyers, all glossy and slick,
And I knew in an instant that it was bargains that would stick.

More rapid than hordes, the shoppers they came,
Crowding home and electronics, gotta get that new game.
Now toasters, now iPods, now board games and toys,
Grab discounts, grab bargains, can't afford to be coy.
To Kohls and to Target, To Walmart and the mall,
Shop away, shop away, shop away all.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
Grew the lines at the checkouts with items to buy.
So up to the next floor, the hordes they plain flew,
They wanted those bargains, apparently more than did you.
And then in a twinkling, I heard from the clerks,
'Next in line please,' they were glad to have work.

As I talked with consumers, the people in line,
It was really apparent they weren't feeling too fine.
They were clutching their wallets, a glaze in their eyes,
'No credit left for me this year,' was often their cry.
Their choices were careful, each item a find,
Yet the retailers had obviously kept margins in mind.

Their steps they were quick, but eyes were quite bleery,
Still yawns they were stifled, due to caffeine with dairy.
Their bags didn't bulge, despite purchases paid,
A few less per family than they'd previously made.
Still some shopped for sport and had good fun,
Twas quite the excitement to watch where they'd run.

A quick look through stores when I should be in bed,
Soon gave me to know retailers might have a tough time ahead.
The customers they shopped where stuff was on sale,
But no discount equaled no purchase despite their avail.
And leaving the mall to hit the next store,
The consumers weren't confined to stores they adore.

The shoppers want value, not just cheap price.
And retailers win who know naughty from nice.
We're still not done with the shopping this season,
But retailers will win who use their good reason.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

NBC Nightly News

Did a little work for my friend Brian Williams on Black Friday. Okay, I don't know Brian, but I'm sure we'd be friends if I did. Anyway, watch the results of 4 hours with a camera crew starting at 3:15am:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sandbagging or realism?

Interesting debate going on today after more retailers reported earnings. Several folks insinuated that management teams are sandbagging earnings expectations for Q4 so they can knock it out of the park. Let's be sane retail management team is going to be pumping up expectations when headline unemployment is 10.2% and the more realistic U-6 number that includes discouraged workers and the under employed is 17.5%. If people can't get jobs, they can't spend.

Yes, last year things were so dire, folks were so scared, that the sales were totally abysmal. It almost seemed Apocalyptic. And we have absolutely come back from that brink. But this time last year unemployment was only 6.8%, most folks had credit cards that hadn't had limits reduced, retailers had way too much inventory that they sold to us at 60% off, and we were still in the mindset that retail therapy worked.

But this year, we don't have the same level of inventories so there won't be the same sales. Oh sure, expect retailers to have promotions. Just don't expect that there will be the smell of fear when you walk in the stores. Retailers know you expect a discount, and they've procured items at costs that will allow them to put them "On Sale" while they still make decent margins. And if you buy it when it isn't "On Sale", they'll make even more.

The major retailers are saying November is starting weak. Smaller retailers are saying November is starting weak. JC Penney, Kohl's and Walmart have all started Black Friday discounting earlly. If I was managing a retailer, I wouldn't be enthusiastic about what's happening out there.

Caveat - one semi bright spot came from the CEO of American Express this morning when he said on CNBC that his cardholders spent 3% more in October. Maybe it will continue to holiday... maybe it won't. Most major outlets are expecting a fall in sales.

The trick right now is to find the best operators in retail and cling to them if you feel you must own a retailer. Discounters will do better than mainline departmetn stores. Higher end stores seem to be stronger than mainline too. Whatever you do, don't be tempted to lower your standards.

Bottom line: If you want to own these stocks do your research. Watch monthly retail sales. Walk the stores and watch trends. Talk to people about what they're doing for the holidays this year. Or just keep following me here, on CNBC and on Twitter and see what I'm seeing. Be careful out there.