Americans are ending 2009 feeling better about their futures but less than merry about the present. While The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose to 52.9 this month from 50.6 in November, its two components went in distinctly different directions. The Expectations Index rose to 75.6, its highest level since the 75.8 reached in December 2007, but the assessment of current conditions, known as the Present Situation Index, sank to 18.8, the lowest since its 17.5 nadir in February 1983. According to Lynn Franco, director of the group’s Consumer Research Center, “Consumers remain rather pessimistic about their short-term prospects and this will likely continue to play a key role in spending decisions in early 2010.” In a Q&A, marketing guru Jack Trout recommended communicating with these anxious consumers via pithy statements of what a brand represents, rather than flashy technology, a rush to social media or glib sloganeering.
Wall Street’s first reaction to the holiday season through the weekend was a rather enthusiastic thumbs-up. Investors Monday rewarded apparel retailers, department stores in particular, with nearly universal gains on the first trading session following Christmas as they digested news of better-than-expected sales gains and less-than-expected markdowns in light of leaner inventories. While the S&P Retail Index finished the day up 1.22 points, or 0.3 percent, at 418.76 after spiking to 421.71 in morning trading, most stores selling apparel registered stronger increases, and department stores fared best. Wednesday brought news of a 0.5 percent slip in retail stocks, limping into the final trading session of a year that, at least on Wall Street, marked a dramatic revival for the sector.
Despite surviving the economic downturn better than luxury brands, fast-fashion retailers aren’t resting on their laurels. As customers’ spending patterns become unpredictable despite the receding recession, fast-fashion giants are turning to new concepts to stay afloat. Uniqlo is shifting upscale with its premium Jil Sander-designed collection, +J, and expanding into thrifty apparel retailing with the low-cost g.u. chain in Japan. H&M has expanded its successful one-off designer collaborations beyond apparel, with a footwear collection by Jimmy Choo and a lingerie line with Sonia Rykiel. Forever 21 is raising its profile in Japan with three new stores planned, and will open a large-concept, department-style store in Cerritos, Calif., in January. Meanwhile, Inditex is finally catching up with competitors by bringing Zara into the e-commerce fold.
Double-digit increases are alive and well on the Web. While broadline retailers struggled to top their November 2008 sales figures last month in their brick-and-mortar stores, many of their e-commerce sites enjoyed tidings of comfort and joy as the holiday season began in earnest. Department store e-commerce sites scored the fifth largest increase in unique visitors in November compared with October. Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and Target were some of the stores benefiting from this e-commerce spike. Online vintage stores in Europe, such as Atelier Mayer and Vintage Academe, are also experiencing great success and have incorporated editorial elements like video clips and a Web-only cultural magazine.
Has Twitter killed the letter to the editor? At one time, magazines such as Time and Newsweek used to have dedicated staffers who read through incoming mail and typed up individual responses. But now, readers e-mail editors directly, and those who don’t have time to draft flowery prose to an editor use comment areas on blogs, Facebook and other social networking outlets, an indication that letters to editors have not died out. Instead, they’ve simply morphed into different forms.
Moving from one decade to another has been risky business of late. In 1999, there was a panic over the Y2K bug. It was believed then that computer systems worldwide would mistake the date 01-01-00 for January 1, 1900, at midnight on New Year’s Day and shut down, causing catastrophic damage. WWD asked retailers, vendors and manufacturers in the fashion industry how they were preparing for the phenomenon. Saks spent over $20 million getting ready for Y2K. For Wal-Mart — at the time reputed to have among the most advanced systems in retailing — the price tag for reprogramming, replacement and extensive testing of software topped $27 million. But the banner investment award went to Sears, which invested $150 million to prepare for the glitch, primarily on upgrading and implementing new information systems.
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