Marching Toward a Better Economy
March 2010 brought cheery news for a weary retail sector. Same-store sales on the Johnson Redbook Index that month rose 9.0%, the best monthly performance in a decade.
The fact that Easter took place in March helped boost results, as did comparisons to a puny March 2009, when comps fell 0.8%. But at the time, it seemed like a turning point.
It turned out not to be, but that point was approaching. Redbook's monthly same-store sales index has been running positive monthly comps consecutively since October 2009.
But while the relative numbers are up, the overall volume of business remains lower than it was two years ago. The basket of retailers tracked by Redbook - which includes general merchandise, grocery, drug and specialty retail chains - generated about $16.8 billion in sales in March 2009. Last month, they did about $15.95 billion. Silver lining:
Last month's total business for the Redbook group was about 1.5% larger than it was in March 2010 - without Easter sales to goose things along.
Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department reported a 0.7% uptick in consumer spending in February - the eighth straight month of growth - but noted most of the extra dollars were spent covering higher food and energy costs.
With consumer incomes ahead by only 0.3% in February, consumers continue to act more prudently than they did during the giddy bubble years. Consumers are still paying down debt and using credit cards more sparingly than they used to.
It's all a part of what "For Your Home Host" Vicki Payne calls "living smaller."
Payne spent a few days in the Royale Linens showroom during the recent New York Home Fashions Market for the launch of her bedding line there.
Since she deals with all areas of home - from construction and remodeling to decorating - I asked her what broad lifestyle trends she's seeing in home.
"People are living smaller - they're right-sizing their homes," she said.
Although people are moving into smaller homes, "they're going to get so much more use out of the space now."
Yesterday's furniture is too big, she added. One of the biggest selling mattress sizes now is twin because rooms are becoming more multi-purpose, she said.
"We're also starting to take the labels off our rooms," said Payne. "Maybe you never use that formal dining room, but you need a space where your kids can have work stations and you can keep an eye on what they're doing on the computer."
All interesting developments to watch - and create product to address - as the economy slowly moves forward.