Retailers See Varying Colors

Three recent reports from the National Retail Federation (NRF) paint somewhat different views of the retail picture past, present, and future.

According to the NRF 2005 St. Patrick’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch for NRF, consumers are expected to spend $1.94 billion on the holiday. The poll of 6,366 consumers, conducted from February 2-9, 2005, found that with some 84.5 million consumers celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, the average person celebrating plans to spend $27.65 on the festivities. Not surprisingly, many consumers plan to head out on the town, with 19.8 million people planning to go to a bar or restaurant this St. Patrick’s Day, and another 12.7 million planning to attend a private party on Thursday. Food, beverages, and decorations for both home and office are the expected big sellers, with Irish tunes, books, and even shamrock clothing also in the mix.

The outlook for Easter, however, is not as green. Sales of apparel and other traditional holiday goods will be affected by the holiday falling earlier in the year than it has in more than decade, according to the NRF 2005 Easter Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch. The poll of 6,993 consumers, conducted from March 2-9, found that 75.9% of Americans plan to celebrate Easter, relatively the same amount as last year (75.6%). However, consumers will be spending less on average, which will reduce total Easter spending to $9.6 billion from $10.5 billion a year ago.

Those who will celebrate the holiday plan to spend an average of $96.51, down sharply from $107.17 in 2004. Consumers are expected to spend about a third of their Easter budget on food ($30.77) and another $14.39 on candy. Shoppers will also be spending about $15 each on clothing ($14.66) and gifts ($14.86).

Consumers who plan to purchase apparel for Easter this year plan to spend as much this year as they did a year ago ($49.95 compared to $49.41). However, the demand for apparel is expected to drop significantly, with only 29.4% of consumers planning to buy clothing for Easter, down from 42.2% last year.

NRF feels that the calendar may play the biggest role in the spending decline. In 2004, Easter fell on April 11; this year, Easter is on March 27. This is the earliest Easter in more than 15 years (Easter fell on March 26 in 1989). Many consumers are not expected to yet be in a really spring-like mood. Increases in gasoline prices are also anticipated as having an impact.

Consumers between the ages of 35-44 are expected to spend the most on Easter this year ($106.22), with shoppers ages 45-54 coming in a close second ($100.38). Young adults 18-24 years old will spend the least amount on Easter this year ($65.40).

Candy will be the most popular purchase for Easter this year with 85.5 percent of shoppers planning to purchase chocolates and other sweets for the holiday. Food sales will also be strong, with 76.8 percent of consumers celebrating Easter planning to buy food. In addition, more than half of consumers will be purchasing gifts (55.4%) and greeting cards (50.1%) for the holiday.

Meanwhile, February retail sales continued to grow during what is typically a slow selling season. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retail industry sales for February (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose a solid 4.4% over last year and increased 0.3% seasonally adjusted over January. The increase was impressive, considering it was being compared with sales from last February, which rose 10.6%. “Consumers were motivated to spend on the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. Note, however, that NRF has broadened its definition of “retail sales.” February retail sales released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) rose 0.5% seasonally adjusted from January and increased 5.6% unadjusted year-over-year.

NRF has broadened its definition of “retail sales” to include food and beverage stores, building materials and garden equipment stores, health and personal care stores, and miscellaneous retailers including florists and gift shops. NRF had previously only monitored sales at general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliances stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores. NRF will release a revised historical retail analysis and forecast at the beginning of the second quarter.

Combined, the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day spending accounted for $18.75 billion in spending last month. Most retail categories experienced growth, with Super Bowl spending spurring sales at electronics and appliance stores, whose sales rose 1.6% seasonally adjusted from January and 4.2% over a year ago. Furniture and home furnishings stores also saw growth, with sales rising 0.7% from the prior month and 3.3% over last February. Additionally, clothing and clothing accessories stores (which include jewelry stores, a popular Valentine’s Day destination) saw gains of 1.1% from January and 2.9% over last year.

For further information, contact Ellen Tolley or Scott Krugman at (202) 783-7971, e-mail tolleye@nrf.com or krugmans@nrf.com, or visit www.nrf.com.

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