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High Fuel Prices Taking Bite Out Of Retail Sales

New York— Many broad-line mass merchants are already writing off March, arguing that a late Easter is deferring sales to April. But Bank of America Securities (BAS) retail analyst Aram Rubinson believes that high energy prices — even more than war worries — is the real culprit that's eating away at comps. According to a BAS analysis based on the latest energy price forecast by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), consumers spent an estimated $33.5 billion on gasoline, home heating oil, natural gas and electricity during February, which is nearly $5 billion more than they did a year ago. Dividing that amount by last year's February retail sales indicates a 3.1 percent bite in last month's comps, Rubinson said, while forecasts suggest same store sales could be impacted by 2.5 percent in March, 2.3 percent in April and a more moderate 1.5 percent in May. His conclusion: "We would go so far as to say that higher energy prices may have affected comps as much as the weather."

CE E-tail Sites Rank High In Customer Respect Study

Bellevue, Wash. — Specialty retailers' e-commerce sites tend to provide a better online experience than those of full-line merchants, according to a new study by the Customer Respect Group, an international research and consulting firm, here. The report, "Winter 2003 Online Customer Respect Study," rated the Web sites of the 500 largest U.S. retailers based on 25 different attributes, including customer privacy, respect of customer data, simplicity and responsiveness. The highest-ranked CE chain was Best Buy, which earned 8.9 on a 10-point scale, followed by Circuit City (8.5) and RadioShack (6.3). Within the office supply channel, OfficeMax earned 6.2 and Office Depot 5.7. Full-line discounters generally scored lower, with Wal-Mart rating 7.2, Kmart 6.8 and Sears 6.7. The highest score, 9.4, went to Walgreen's, followed by Costco and Dollar General at 9.3. But 37 percent of surveyed sites failed to respond to online inquiries. "If 37 percent of companies refused to answer questions from customers in a physical store, that would be considered unacceptable," said Customer Respect Group CEO Donal Daly. "Putting the customer first needs to be the mantra for everything a company does online, as the competition is just a click away."


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