NEW YORK — Consumer jitters are dampening the consumer outlook in May, but a pullback in spending likely won’t include Mother’s Day gifts, a recent survey found.

Retail Forward’s Future Spending Index declined to 96.6 in May from 103.9 in April. The online sample of 4,000 U.S. primary household shoppers, conducted during the last week of April, also indicated that Wal-Mart’s growing influence is extending into the online space.

“In April, the job market weakened and the stock market posted its worst monthly falloff in two years,” said Steve Spiwak, a Retail Forward economist, in a statement explaining the survey results.

The impact of the recent job market weakness is concentrated among the up- and middle-market household segments of the survey respondents. The index for “up-market” households, or incomes greater than $75,000, declined to 97.5 in May from 105.1 last month.

A more somber view of the employment picture compared with a loftier assessment since the holidays fueled the decline. Adding to the curb in spending plans is the sentiment that debt loads are becoming more worrisome.

The index for “middle-market” households, those with incomes between $22,500 and $75,000, fell to a reading of 93.9 in May from 102.8 in April. The decline centered on heightened job and income concerns, as well as a drop in home buying.

The “down-market” household index, incomes less than $22,500, inched downward to 102.3 in May from 104 last month. Consumers in this group were less concerned about job prospects, the survey found.

The survey also indicated that most consumers plan to spend more on mom this year, with apparel and fine jewelry as the key gift choices among the up-market households. The average amount of spending on apparel and footwear is expected to be around $82, while spending for fine jewelry is anticipated to rise to $178.

The down-market households, not surprisingly, are Wal-Mart shoppers, and many are increasingly visiting Nearly three-quarters of the down-market shoppers, or 72 percent, have visited, compared with more than half, or 59 percent, of the up-market households that have clicked on to the site.

Shoppers in all household categories regardless of income, or an average of 42 percent, primarily visit the site to conduct online product research. Down- and middle-market households, at 42 percent each, check the site for advertising flyers, compared with just 29 percent of the up-  market consumers.

This story first appeared in the May 9, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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