Can you smell it? Fall is in the air! It may still be 85 degrees in sunny California, but the kids have returned to school, a crispness is the order of the day, and last weekend, I did my annual fall shopping. The trip this year was much more measured than other years, as I suppose it is for most in the developed world. The recession is alive, growth from the last few quarters has slowed, and there is still rampant uncertainty in all of our daily lives.
But that is not what I want to blog about today. On my trip, I did my usual “people watching” noting a subtle but noticeable shift in the gestalt of the crowd. We visited our local mall which is owned by Macerich. The shopping center was renovated in 2007 and a huge Target took over a vacated Robinson’s-May as one of the anchors. Still, the mall floundered and felt like an unhappy place to me. And then voila! In the midst of the downturn, with unemployment still above 9 percent nationally and American companies holding on to more than $1.8 trillion in cash ( not investing, not hiring), a new sense of hope and purpose is in the air. Unscientific you say? Yes, but after so many years in the business I am a reader of attitudes, unspoken intentions, a focus group unto myself.
What has caused this shift in outlook, turned the gray glasses to rose-colored? I believe it is the retailers, some of whom are doing an excellent job of reading their markets. With my husband in tow, we were given free treats at Cinnabun, Wetzels Pretzels, and See’s Candy while waiting in line to buy a low-cal coffee at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. I smelled popcorn and saw several happy families with brightly colored red-and-white boxes. Where did they get these cheery delicious snacks? Target! (Sears, you lose again, even though this was your idea in the first place!) And while waiting in line, I saw the Giant Surprise that H & M, one of my favorites, will be opening in our mall in less than two weeks. The fast-fashion Swedish retailer made the excellent choice not to locate in a struggling new “upscale” lifestyle center in Oxnard (oxymoron, lifestyle center: Oxnard) which would have been a huge mistake!
As a very wise presidential candidate once said, “it’s the economy stupid!” and retailers that have learned to provide VALUE and fun in the shopping experience and in the goods and services they offer are faring well. TJX, Ross, Forever 21 and now Bloomingdale’s Outlets are giving consumers what they want and need in today’s difficult world. Free stuff, fun stuff, inexpensive stuff, value for the money!
So while the economic indicators continue to stump the experts, the American consumer is not giving up! They will continue to shop (less and cheaper), eat sugar and popcorn, and hope for the much badly needed turnaround. And this, my friends, is a self-fulfilling prophecy for a better year in 2012!