Retail Preview & Update

We had family in this weekend from all over — Paris, Chicago, Houston — so we got to play NYC tour guide. The Frick, Patsy’s Pizza, and La Ginestra (a fabulous local restaurant by our home) were all on our tour.

Under the category of Economic Research, we also did quite a bit of window shopping on Madison and Fifth Avenues at the request of my wife’s French cousines. Since we have Same Store Sales data coming out today, I thought I would recount the weekend’s shopping spree. 

Caution: Anecdotal evidence to follow:

Sunday was a bright sunny day — a bit windy and cool. Everywhere we went was fairly crowded with shoppers, but not necessarily buyers. That’s the danger of anecdotal evidence — it needs backing data. While you may not have been able to find a parking space at the mall, that only tells us people are in stores — but it does not say how much or little they are actually spending.

Perfect example:  The flagship Abercrombie & Fitch store on 5th Ave — filled with teens, pounding euro-pop, and half clad employees — was jammed, yet there were only 3 registers open, and the lines were short. Considering the huge traffic, I found that odd.

The big Jewlery stores — Tiffany, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels (and another whose name escapes) — were not very crowded. We looked at some pricey baubles (I almost bought a watch for $200,000). Fortunoff’s on Long Island has also been rather empty, and it has one of the best Jewelry departments you’ll come across int he ‘burbs.

Coach was actually very busy, and Dooney & Bourke seemed to be having some sort of a party going  on. Again, this is just one store — in a very high rent shopping district — it may or may not be reflective of broader trends chain wide. 

Bloomingdales was also a mixed bag: The Men’s Department was empty (I found a 2 nice Ted Baker ties and Zegna I added to my want list). The women’s departments had more people than the men’s but were not particularly crowded.

The lone exception was the shoe section, which was an absolute madhouse. I wish I had known about this place before I was married. If you are single guy living in NY, you can forget about single bars — this is where you want to hang out (incredible talent pool, zero competition).

Incidentally, Mrs. Big Picture, who teaches fashion illustration and design, was sure right about boots being huge this year; they were everywhere — very sexy knee highs, lace-ups, fur trimmed, leather gear. She told me about this 2 years ago, and I never thought how to play it via either shoe companies or specific retail stores. (I need to start listening to her more).


What was so interesting about the shopping trip was my prior expectations had been somewhat bifurcated: High end stores had been doing well for the past few yearss, while the lower end stores were highly dependent upon gasoline prices;

The ugly recent data from Wal-Mart — gains were up just 0.5% for the October,versus  expectations of 2-4% improvement in same store sales —  belies that thesis. In September, Personal Spending rose just 0.1%;  This implies that consumers across all strata are beginning to scale back "sport shopping." Combined with the punk GDP data, this could be the leading edge of the 2007 recession.

Agains, this is only anecdotal evidence — but the data is what matters more, and we get a load of it today via Same Store Sales.


While we await today’s SSS, have a gander at this chart (via Mike Panzner) that shows the diffusion of retail spending across different store categories:




Panzner notes: "Gas stations (no doubt because of rising fuel prices), building materials/garden supplies stores (housing boom?), and health/personal care stores (convenience?) have boosted their share of consumers’ retail-spending dollar over the past decade."

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  1. jab commented on Nov 2


    I would not be mentioning $200,000 watches. You seem like such an everyday guy people can relate too. That will kill the image. That is probably more than double many of your fans annual income.




    It was a joke — see the italics on the word “almost” — that was sarcasm (which I know does not translate well in type)

  2. Calmo’s Helper commented on Nov 2

    Don’t worry about mentioning that $200K watch Barry. I’m just concerned that it’s not the right accessory for “The Sweater”.

    Maybe something along the lines of an old Casio digital would work better for you.

  3. Jason commented on Nov 2

    “(I almost bought a watch for $200,000)”

    I live in a house that’s worth half of that watch, and almost a decade worth of my pay…

  4. erik commented on Nov 2

    the ONLY reason you would ever buy a 200,000 watch is as a status symbol or for the very purpose of dropping a casual line that you were considering purchasing one.

    i’d say you got the most bang for the buck by just mentioning you considered the purchase.

    on that line i was considering getting that solid gold shower rod i heard about at the tyco trial last year. let’s hope we don’t ever hear about the watch in any upcoming trials…

    keep your nose clean.

  5. andiron commented on Nov 2

    200k watch? BR must be worth 10 mil+

  6. justin commented on Nov 2

    what kind of watch was it?

  7. tt commented on Nov 2

    I was in Tourneau shopping for a Breguet , and there was no one there …. 12 sales people and me …. but the service was good !!!

  8. Reed Hypothecation commented on Nov 2

    $200k for a watch ? You need an intern ? I am available.

  9. DD commented on Nov 2

    if your gonna talk about buying watches the least you can do is let ME post about MY pubes. :P

    the consumer is dead, the dollar is dead…buy gld and some SU

  10. Barry Ritholtz commented on Nov 2

    A joke people, a joke! Doesn’t anyone ever get sarcasm?

    Geez, setttle down.

    Just because I married a supermodel, collect Ferraris and spend my summers in Monaco doesn’t mean I’m a gazillionaire . . .

  11. Jim M commented on Nov 2

    I’m confused. Did you mean ‘bespeaks’ when you said ‘belies’? Thanks

  12. Barry Ritholtz commented on Nov 2

    No, I am saying my prior view — that Luxury goods retailers were still doing well — was wrong.

  13. MarkM commented on Nov 2

    “Don’t worry about mentioning that $200K watch Barry. I’m just concerned that it’s not the right accessory for “The Sweater”.

    Maybe something along the lines of an old Casio digital would work better for you.

    Posted by: Calmo’s Helper | Nov 2, 2006 8:17:06 AM”

    We are looking for someone with savvy marketing skills such as your own to assist us in pushing sales of The Sweater to new heights. Please contact the undersigned at your earliest convenience.


    Mark McCormack, President
    The Sweater Marketing Group LLC

  14. silver_n_gold commented on Nov 2

    Wow, this blog entry is a dictionary definition of the word envy.

    Who cares what BR was trying to learn about the economy out in the mean shopping malls of America? I heard $200K watch! My head is going to explode!

  15. KP commented on Nov 2

    I’d the say the line about the watch has proven more telling about the readers of this blog than Barry, IMHO. Lots more interesting tidbits in the original post than the watch folks, focus!

  16. S commented on Nov 2

    My $12 Timex needs a new battery. Anybody got the time?

  17. jab commented on Nov 2


    Sorry – too early in the morning to get the joke I guess.


  18. brion commented on Nov 2

    Mention of “The Watch” seems to have brought out “the shy ones”.

    “..Just because I married a supermodel, collect Ferraris and spend my summers in Monaco…” is bound to bring out the IRS!

    “Tread carefully my profligate friend!!!”

    (tsk tsk)

  19. jab commented on Nov 2

    The funny thing is so many of believed Barry could/would lay out $200k for a watch.

  20. brion commented on Nov 2

    i think we can all agree that ANYONE who would buy such a watch should also have it inscribed “I AM A STUPID USELESS TOOL”

  21. calmo (who does not mind help, who is not proud) commented on Nov 2

    O people twas not the ” almost watch” twas this:

    Incidentally, Mrs. Big Picture, who teaches fashion illustration and design,

    explaining so much…starting with that sweater I bet.

  22. tt commented on Nov 2

    simmer down with the HATE

  23. BDG123 commented on Nov 2

    Re watch.

    Well, given a study where 80% of email or written text is misinterpreted, I would say maybe we misinterpreted your bearishness.

    A side bar. Rule #1, never, ever, ever correspond with a client via email unless you are looking to CYA. Business correspondences where etiquette is required, ie no joking i, is almost always misinterpreted and negatively at that.

  24. cm commented on Nov 2

    As I pointed out before, over the past year or so “sales” seem to have increased in area grocery/staples stores. (Not in my most desirable categories though — understandably.) Price hikes appear to have taken a breather for the time being. With non-perishables one can stock up on good deals — storage space at home permitting, but with more frequent and longer sales, a smaller hoard will last from one sale to the next.

  25. fearlessmanateehunter commented on Nov 2

    “very sexy knee highs, lace-ups, fur trimmed, leather gear. ”

    PLEASSSSSSE…….! I find this whole boot thing sooooo……. Awful….. ;-) Oh well, to each his own….


    The Fearless Manatee Hunter,
    Killer of the Gentle Sea Cow

  26. bob commented on Nov 2

    We and my wife we buy EVERYTHING except groceries online.

    All – furniture, clothes, shoes, coffee/tea, vitamins, toys, obviously all electronics, books, media – all ONLINE.

    I just don’t understand, for example, how you can shop for shoes in the shop that doesn’t have at least 1,000 different models to chose from :-)

    All good clothing/shoes stores have free return shipping. You buy a big box, try it, send half a box back, free.

  27. bob commented on Nov 2

    I wear the $250 watch, and it was a gift of 15 people to me :-)


  28. eco-none commented on Nov 2

    Did you notice the sports goods (green) and the health/personal care (black) lines in the graph mirror each other? Both began to diverge at about 99-00 and both leveled off at Arp 04 and stayed flat. Maybe it’s telling us something about the reasons for the expansive health care…

  29. Hilly Jacklin commented on Nov 2

    Everyone seems so prickly and thin skinned! The moral of the story was that even the very very wealthy are now doing more recreational looking than shopping. And obviously because the wealthy have more money they don’t run out as soon as those of us who don’t. So, Wal-Mart sales will slow down first, before Tiffany’s. And If I had relatives come in from all over the globe and they wanted to window shop I’d take them to the really nice places, not the local Target.

  30. donna commented on Nov 2

    Boots go well with long skirts.

    Which go well with recessions.

  31. tt commented on Nov 2

    Boots go well with $200k watches !!!

  32. RP commented on Nov 2

    People still buy watches? Gonna get a nice buggy whip too, with each $200K purchase to use on your horse
    drawn carriage?

    The fact that you actually looked at a watch as a useful item, worries me far more than the price tag. Help! – you’ve fallen from the pedestal, and you can’t get up. Press the life alert. I’m going to guess that at least one piece of portable hardware, and probably more, that you carry at all times already has a frickin clock and alarm in it….probably plays music too….

    (wanders off mumbling to self)…a watch?!?!…

  33. wyler commented on Nov 2

    Agreeing with RPs comment:
    From WSJ 01/18/2006: The Times They Are a-changing:

    “Cellphones, iPods and laptops are standard equipment for young people these days. But there’s one device that they are increasingly doing without: the wristwatch.In a challenging development for…”

  34. brion commented on Nov 2

    cellphone-wallet-ipod-wristwatch….check check check and CHECK!

  35. dryfly commented on Nov 2

    Great post BR.

    BTW – listen to your wife re the fashion thing but be VERY careful. She will see what is coming but that doesn’t mean it will sell (ie will the dogs eat the dog food???).

    You might train her to look for winners & stinkers besides just reporting what is on the drawing board. Most women know the difference between hot & not instinctively while more than a few marketing managers wouldn’t know the difference if they walked up arm-n-arm and introduced themselves.

  36. Leisa commented on Nov 3

    These comments have made me feel old. I’ve worn a watch every single day for my adult life–that makes it a trend of at least 10 years (g). And the most annoying people are those who do not own a watch but pester you for the time–but we know that the only folks who do that now do not own a cell phone.

    Anyway….I cannot imagine going out without one, and I plan to be buried with one. I have this odd watch…it’s a women’s Chase Durer stainless band with a copper face (I opted out of the diamond encrusted model). It’s a seriously clunky, unfeminine watch, but it’s a man magnet for sure (not that I’m in the market having a husband and all that, and I’m certainly too old to wear fur trimmed over the boots which have a less polite name than Barry has given them).

    I bought the watch discount online ~$300-400, about 50% off list BUT It felt like buying a $200K watch (and BR I got your joke!). However, as I write this I realize that I’m unhealthily attached to this watch and must post it on e-bay.

  37. Christopher commented on Nov 4

    Barry – It’s tough to pick up women in the shoe dept. I’ve tried. They usually think your gay. I get better results in the dress dept at Barney’s. Also, models can’t resist hedge fund managers! Just a tip….

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