American shoppers are splitting again: The affluent are finally starting to buy, picking up designer clothes at places
like Nordstrom, while those on the lower economic rungs are still scrimping by, heading to Walmart for the basics.
Recent earnings reports from major retailers suggest that the wealthy, who pulled back their spending the hardest during
the financial meltdown last fall, are once again being enticed to open their wallets and going back to higher-end outlets.
"It’s a good sign, but we don’t see the same across the board," said Richard Hastings, a consumer strategist
with Global Hunter Securities LLC.
It’s still a far cry from the era of conspicuous consumption. No matter the
tax bracket, people are still focused on value and trying to avoid overspending—whatever that might mean to them.
Luxury chains like Nordstrom Inc. and Bloomingdale’s, owned by Macy’s Inc., say shoppers are spending again on items
like shoes and dresses, but still shopping for lower prices and classic pieces that get a lot of use.
On the other
hand, discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are lowering prices even further to coax their less-well-off shoppers to keep
spending. And it’s not on anything glamorous. We’re talking basics, like food and socks.
Think of it as two different
groups as the economy recovers—spenders and savers.
stores like Nordstrom and Saks are starting to get more traffic. Part of the reason is that they’ve rolled out some merchandise
at slightly lower prices, which is helping to keep the affluent from trading down to other stores.
do spend, it’s very scrutinized and it’s very value-driven," said luxury retail analyst Robert Burke. "And they
want items they can wear multiple places."
Other expensive stores like Abercrombie & Fitch are taking
the lesson. The preppy clothing seller said Friday it will offer some lower-priced basics and stock up on denim early next
Nordstrom’s third-quarter profit rose as sales improved compared with last year. Of course, last year marked
a sharp drop in luxury spending as the financial crisis deepened.
Shoppers like Patricia Murnane show what’s still
changed. The 47-year-old risk manager from New York was shopping for black dress slacks Friday at a Nordstrom in Chicago.
She says she goes to more stores now to make sure she’s getting the best price. "I used to consider shopping
entertainment, but now I don’t think it’s entertainment," she said.
and poorer shoppers are still clutching their wallets and focusing on basics, even as they start to venture out to stores
Kohl’s, a chain of midrange department stores, said more customers came into its stores in the third quarter
and made more purchases, but they’re still limiting their spending.
Its shoppers are on a mission for a set list
of items and not straying, CEO Kevin Mansell said.
"We’re not able to convince them to buy that extra thing,"
he told The Associated Press.
Faced with slower sales, J.C. Penney Co. has cut its inventory so it doesn’t have
to rely on as much discounting. Sales were still weak as its shoppers continued to worry about job security and tight credit.
Walmart continues to benefit from higher customer traffic as it aggressively discounts everything from electronics
to food. But its sales at stores open at least a year slipped for the second straight quarter as shoppers spent less.
Walmart noted more pronounced swings in spending between paycheck cycles—a sign that people have little extra to
That makes sense because Walmart customers who earn the least money are among the economy’s hardest-hit
as unemployment tops 10 percent and gas prices edge upward, said Hastings, the consumer strategist.
Walmart shopper, they start to become poorer than usual, and they’ll really start to lag behind," he said.