Monday, December 21, 2009

Opps, the weather did it again

I'm not a fan of excuses. I screw up, I own it. You screw up, you own it. Retailers seem to constantly play the weather card - it was too cold, too warm, too dry, too wet, too snowy, etc. And that frankly pisses me off. But this weekend, I kind of have to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least those with a concentration of stores on the East Coast.

I had the opportunity to chat with NBC Nightly News today about this weekend's fun, although only about 3.5 of the best seconds from my 15 minutes of tape made it to air. (Not complaining, that's just how TV works. I just find it ironic.) Anyway, a couple of take aways:

* Yes, Christmas will still come on Friday. And yes, kids will still expect to have presents under the tree on Christmas morning, regardless of the weather. Santa, after all, has Rudolph and shouldn't be hindered by inclement weather.

* I don't care how much people shop this week, they'll be under more pressure because they have less time. And given that, expect fewer impulse buys, fewer instances of self-gifting. Put another way, sales might be okay, but not as good as they might have been had the weather been better.

* Companies with smaller presence on the east coast will have done better (all things being equal)than those based heavier in the south or west. That being said, the southern most portion of the country (ala Florida... JT Smith territory) wasn't as affected.

* If you're holding out for 70% discounts... you're either going to end up empty handed or with lime green jumpsuits in size 2. Face the facts, reailers have generally speaking managed their inventories very well this season. Panic was last year. Stupid merchandising, however, is omnipresent if you look hard enough. You can buy it though, I don't want it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pardon me if this is obvious...

Those of you who already got this, tune back in tomorrow. For the rest of you:

It was announced today that both Wells Fargo and Citicorp were going to pay back TARP, joining Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. Think that it's great that these banks are so healthy that they can pay back the money? Uh huh. If that's what you think it is, I've got some land in Florida for sale(right by JT Smith, who wanted to be mentioned in this post).

So now these banks don't have to listen to the government on pay. That's the real reason they've forked over the cash. It's not that I blame them, mind you. The government has no business setting pay for the private sector. Yeah, I understand that the banks got government bailout money, and for that they need to be accountable to the government. But 'the government' didn't (doesn't) have a clue about what people should be paid for ANY job, let alone top positions in banking. Remember, these are the folks who pay clerks 20% above the going rate in the private sector and yet make sure that folks in the military are still able to qualify for food stamps.

The big problem with all this is that if the banking sector were truly healthy, they'd be starting to loan on their own. And yet their fists are closed tight, hanging on to almost all the capital that wasn't needed to get the government to butt out. Obama's meeting today with bankers at the White House where he sternly scolded them about their 'responsibility' to the American public to lend since the public had bailed the banks out? BOGUS.

See, this is how it works if you're a bank: you loan your excess capital to the creditworthy and turn down those who don't qualify. That means that 1) you have to have excess capital, and 2) you have to find someone creditworthy to loan said capital. I don't care how cranky the government folks get, it's a bunch of blowhard posturing that messes with capitalism as we know it. And guess what - if you give people money who can't pay it back, you just create bigger problems... but hopefully not until after the next election.

Color me cynical.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

They're not all equal

I have two boys whom I love equally, but differently. They each have strengths and weaknesses. It would be wrong to treat them exactly the same since they aren't exactly the same.

Walking the mall today, it became so apparent that this holiday season is going to have it's share of winners AND losers, even though so many would like to paint all retail with the same brush.

There were a number of teen retailers full of merchandise that was marked down offering an additional savings of 25-33% with purchases of $75-100. It amused me that a couple of these retailers belong to a company that swore they weren't going to discount because it would damage the brand. I could report that these discounts drove scores of customers and purchases into their stores, but my parents taught me early that lying was the wrong thing to do. The mall I was at didn't have an Aeropostale, but I'm pretty sure that they had to be doing better business than what I saw at their competition.

On the other side of the equation, J Crew was running with a moderate amount of inventory at most, had some sales going which projected value, and all of it made me want to buy.

Certain large national department stores with more than 850 stores had a lot of merchandise, few clerks, and not a lot of purchasers among the folks wandering through the store. Those cash registers are more profitable if people line up to buy things at them.

Oh yeah, and if you're at the mall with your significant other and just can't take the hustle and bustle anymore... fear not. There's plenty of peace and quiet in just about any jewelry store in the mall.

There's a lot more detail rattling inside my head about this, but my bottom line is simple: don't believe all the hype that "The Consumer" is back. "The Consumer" doesn't exist, just like "The Retailer" doesn't. Unlike the Borg (yeah, I've been known to watch some sci-fi, so what?), there are differing levels of consumer rebounds and retailers' success isn't homogeneous. If you're not going to do your own homework, or pay to peek at someone else's... stay out of the game.

Be careful out there.