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    By: Britt Beemer
    From Chain Store Age, January 2003, based on Consumer Mind Reader survey of 1000 consumers November, 2002.

    Many retailers are ringing in the new year struggling to be optimistic about the their prospects in 2003, just as they struggled throughout most of 2002.

    A year ago, retailers entered the new year confident that the stay-at-home malaise which had begun during the summer and intensified after September 11th had passed. They felt sure shoppers would return to spend again.

    But reality set in as the year wore on, and traffic in major categories showed no signs of growth. As a result, many limped through the summer and found themselves relying heavily on fourth quarter sales to even match 2001 sales levels.

    Our latest Consumer Mind Reader ™ findings give retailers little solace in the area of building store traffic. For instance, 17.6 percent of shoppers told us in the survey they had shopped retailers specializing in appliances, electronics and computers. For the same period in 2001, 20.6 percent reported shopping those stores. Further, this year’s shoppers said they spent an average of $24.91 per shopping trip in the appliance/electronics/computer category, up only slightly from the $24.77 recorded during 2001.

    Fewer consumers interviewed by America’s Research Group shopped national department stores, book stores, membership warehouse clubs, home accessories stores, furniture stores, and garage sales/flea markets than did so in 2001.

    The home improvement store category, the beneficiary of a traffic upsurge following the terrorist attacks, recorded its lowest levels since March, 2001 and showed a 7.5 percent decline from levels enjoyed in the fall of 2001.

    Even discount stores, the traditional giant among retail shoppers, saw a decline from 2001 traffic levels.

    Despite the slowdown in traffic, many categories showed growth in spending levels. Furniture stores, while serving fewer shoppers, managed to more than double the average ticket purchase. Home accessories stores also saw a significant increase in the spending levels among shoppers who did venture into their stores, as did discount stores,.

    Some categories in our Consumer Mind Reader survey managed to buck the trend, showing growth in both store traffic and in average sales levels. Apparel stores, sporting goods stores, drug stores, auto parts stores and shoe stores all showed improvement over 2001 levels in both percentage of shoppers frequenting their retail locations and in the amount they spent there.

    Sales over the internet also showed some improvement in both categories.

    But of all the categories experiencing growth over 2001 traffic and spending levels, only drug stores and the internet showed any improvement over 2000 shopping levels. The rest simply kept pace with last year.

    The message here for retailers entering 2003 is that the patient is recovering, but it will be a long, slow process. You may have to get used to the idea of facing fewer shoppers every day, but if consumers can be lured into your store by true discounts they are willing to spend money.

    Big Losers
    Retail categories showing declines in both store traffic and average spending levels:

    • National Department Stores
    • Book Stores
    • Garage Sales/Flea Markets

    Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of America’s Research Group, is author of two best-selling business books, Predatory Marketing and It Takes a Prophet to Make a Profit. More detailed information is available on the America’s Research Group website at http://www.predatory.com.

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