Inflation slowed in January, but not enough to ease the concerns of anyone — from investors sweating out the market to consumers trading down to budget-minded shopping options.
The Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index rose 6.4 percent last month, marking a slight declaration from December, when prices rose 6.5 percent from a year earlier.
For the Jerome Powell-led Federal Reserve, which seeks to keep inflation closer to 2 percent, prices are still growing uncomfortably fast, meaning the central bank’s drive to cool down the economy by making it more expensive to borrow money is likely to continue.
And that will continue to impact everyone, including the fashion industry, where consumers outside the rarified world of luxury are showing signs of strain.
January prices on apparel, footwear and accessories rose 3.1 percent from a year earlier.
That included a 4.9 percent rise in watch and jewelry prices, a 4.5 percent increase in men’s apparel and a 3.5 percent rise in women’s apparel. Those increases were pulled down by the more modest 0.4 percent gain in footwear prices.
The pandemic fed inflation with supply chain back ups, government stimulus checks and a cooped up consumer spending closer to home.
Now those forces have largely passed through and many shoppers are more worried about the threat of recession than facing bare shelves at stores.
And so some shoppers are gravitating to stores with lower prices.
“Trade-down is evident across the consumer spectrum which could benefit off-price retail,” said John Kernan, an analyst at Cowen.
“Off-price visitation rates for women 18 to 34 sequentially improved in January to 56 percent from 51 percent in December,” Kernan said.
That has the market moving toward The TJX Cos., Ross Stores Inc. and Burlington Stores Inc. — the country’s three largest off-pricers.
Kernan estimated those three companies could see their share of apparel and accessories market jump from 13.9 percent now to 15.3 percent by 2024.
And full-price retailers, wary of diluting their own brands, are feeding the off-price resurgence.
“Inventory availability for the off-price channel should be structurally improving,” Kernan said. “Many brands and retailers are working to liquidate excess as supply chain normalizes, creating robust availability for off-price.”