Respondents Report New Trending, Stepped-Up Hiring, More Mobile Marketing
NORTH PLAINFIELD, N.J., Jan. 29, 2014 – The latest results of Levin Management's post-holiday Retail Sentiment Survey revealed some new trends along with realistic sales expectations among retailers during the season. The North Plainfield-based retail real estate services firm this week reported the results of its annual January poll of store managers within its 95-property, 13 million-square-foot shopping center portfolio.
A majority of responders, 57.3 percent, noted holiday sales met or exceeded their expectations this holiday season. However, for some, the timing of their peak sales came as a surprise: Instead of the much-hyped Black Friday weekend, mid-December was the busiest time according to 26.9 percent of respondents followed by the weekend before Christmas with 24.4 percent. This compared with 15.4 percent that reported peak sales for the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend.
“We have observed many retailers starting their Black Friday sales well before Thanksgiving, which may have resulted in softer sales during the actual weekend,” said Levin’s President Matthew K. Harding. In fact, 12.8 percent indicated that their 2013 holiday sales peaked even before Thanksgiving arrived.
Interestingly, 11.5 percent of Levin’s post-holiday survey respondents indicated their holiday sales peaked during the week between Christmas and New Year’s compared to only 5.5 percent of respondents in last year’s survey. This trending may tie to increased gift-card giving according to Harding.
“The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) reported that gift card purchases represented a record 23.7 percent of consumers’ average holiday spending this season,” he said. “This may have created a surge in spending between December 26 and 31, as shoppers redeemed their cards, took advantage of after-Christmas specials, and made additional purchases.”
Looking Ahead: Jobs Positive, Technology Increases
In a positive sign for employment, the Levin post-holiday survey showed 33.7 percent of respondents added staff for the holiday season, up from 26.6 percent last year. Of those, 40.5 percent indicated that they will retain those temporary hires into 2014.
It also appears that retailers are paying close attention to the marriage of shopping and technology. While 50.6 percent of responders indicated ecommerce had no impact or a positive impact on their 2013 holiday sales (with 21.0 percent feeling a negative impact), nearly one-third (31.6 percent) believe ecommerce will affect their 2014 performance. A significant portion of respondents – 54.9 percent – said they will add or increase mobile technology during the coming year.
“This is an area well worth watching,” Harding said. “Consumers are using smartphones as a research tool to find products, compare pricing and make purchases.” A recent study by comScore/PayPal showed 55.0 percent of smartphone owners are doing so at brick-and-mortar stores, and retailers are beginning to leverage in-store mobile marketing to their advantage.
Retail Sales Overall Were Mixed
A shortened Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping window, and unusually cold weather in the northeast, may have contributed to uneven sales overall during the 2013 holiday season. While the majority of Levin survey respondents – 51.2 percent – reported 2013 holiday sales at the same or higher volume than 2012, that number decreased compared with 65.0 percent last year. Holiday shopper traffic also appears to have declined, with 49.4 percent of survey participants reporting the same or higher volume than 2012 compared to 61.0 percent last year.
Yet various national reports showed modest gains in retail sales during the holiday months. The U.S. Census Bureau indicated retail and food service sales in December rose 4.1 percent year over year. The ICSC reported a 3.0 percent increase for November and December compared to 2012, and the National Retail Federation showed a 3.8 percent increase during that same period.
“While these numbers show some improvement, individual retailer performance results were mixed,” Harding said. “This may be due to deeply discounted pricing and a number of other factors, such as the shortened shopping period and adverse regional weather conditions.”
Overall, about half of responders, 49.4 percent, reported 2013 full-year sales at or above 2012 levels, and retailers show a strong feeling of confidence for 2014 in the survey: Almost three quarters (73.5 percent) are optimistic about next year’s sales performance. This number jumped significantly from last year, when 56.6 percent expressed optimism. Only 6.0 percent said they are pessimistic about the coming year (down from 8.8 percent last year).
“There is reason for optimism,” Harding said. “In the big picture, stronger economic growth and less fiscal uncertainty is bolstering consumer confidence and, ultimately, spending. From a leasing standpoint, we are seeing growing confidence among retailers as well, with stepped-up demand from national, local and franchise companies in broad categories.”
Levin’s next retail sentiment survey will be conducted in late May, gauging mid-year performance. In business for six decades, Levin is one of the nation’s leading retail real estate services firms, with a strong focus in the northeastern United States and an owner’s approach to the business. Levin provides leasing, property management, accounting, construction management and marketing services for properties ranging from neighborhood, community, lifestyle and power centers, to enclosed malls, street retail, downtown stores and mixed-use projects in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia and North Carolina. The company specializes in repositioning, retenanting and renovating retail properties – areas that have become particularly vital for today’s institutional and individual property owners.