In Brief: Holiday Looks Cloudy…The Running Event

Holiday Outlook Cloudy

A trio of major retailers turned in solid third-quarter reports last week, but their outlook for the upcoming holiday season is still muted.

Executives from Macy’s Inc., Kohl’s Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said they expect consumers to continue to be cautious in the final weeks of the year.

“There is more uncertainty than usual in the environment,” Macy’s CFO Karen Hoguet said during a conference call with analysts last Wednesday, following the company’s better-than-expected report. “We, like you, are trying hard to forecast what this environment will mean for holiday sales and profitability. It isn’t easy. Unfortunately, we are all just going to have to wait and see. All of us need to be careful not to judge based on a one-day, one-week or even one-month basis.”

Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart, echoed those sentiments on the retail giant’s Thursday call. “While we feel good about the progress we’ve made this year, our customers remain concerned about the economy,” Castro-Wright said. “Customers continue to tell us they are concerned about their own finances and unemployment. We recognize that some customers may be more cautious in their holiday spending.”

One thing is certain: Price will be a big factor for many consumers — and retailers — this season.

“Although the industry is much better positioned than last year from an inventory standpoint, we fully expect competition to be aggressive on price,” Kohl’s Chairman, President and CEO Kevin Mansell said in a conference call on Thursday. “We intend to ensure consumers view Kohl’s as giving the very best value this season.”

— Katie Abel

The Running Event: First Look

Independent running shops are feeling upbeat about business — that was the message at The Running Event trade show and conference, held last week in Austin, Texas.

Many retailers told Footwear News that sales had been brisk in 2009, despite the general economic malaise. In fact, the majority of storeowners said that they had seen healthy growth in year-over-year sales, with many in the high double-digits and several stores having opened new doors over the course of the year, or considering it.

Storeowners also noted that while continued community outreach in the form of events, clinics and races has been crucial, many have increased their presences on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or have invested in their own Websites.

Footwear continues to be the strongest category for athletic retailers, with many highlighting the growing importance of natural-motion or barefoot-technique running in terms of both customer buzz and sales.

— Jennifer Ernst Beaudry

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