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Recession Still Ravaging Retailers

NEW YORK -- Consumer shopping trips declined 4 percent in February compared to a year ago, according to Nielsen. And while per-trip shopping basket rings began to pick up during and after the holidays, February remained static with just a 1-percent increase compared to last year. The report, filed by Nielsen's Todd Hale, senior vice president, Consumer and Shopper Insights, and Dan Brady, director, Insights Consulting, also noted retailers' focus on store brands and retail price cuts helped keep spending levels in check, driving more value for shoppers.

"A closer look at monthly shopping trips shows that trends have virtually flat-lined in total and across all major retail channels," wrote Hale and Brady on the Nielsenwire blog. "Grocery stores have been shopped two plus times more often than competitive retail channels. Other Nielsen trends show that consumers are not shopping more stores looking for deals as consumers consistently shopped fewer retailers each period in 2009 than they did in 2008. It is a tough market and breathing life into a different retail environment will take new strategies that keep shoppers satisfied and spending while they are in the store."

Food Matters
With consumers eating in more and out less, lost restaurant trips are being converted into grocery trips. Grocery trips were up in the last eight of 12 periods ending February 2010, but were down in the last four months. Value channels such as dollar stores, warehouse clubs and supercenters have fared the best during the recession, showing growth in most periods in the last year and one-half. In fact, only supercenters and club stores had positive trip growth in each period in 2009. Both, however, declined slightly in 2010 as consumer confidence remained low and poor weather conditions plagued major population centers, according to the report.

Continuing to take a hit are drug, convenience and regular mass merchandiser formats, although drug trips are showing signs of improvement as consumers stock up on meds to combat the effects of the cold and flu season, said Hale and Brady.

Convenience Trips
The decline in convenience store trips was actually slowing last year, as trips instances improved from August to December (improving from an 8-percent decline to a 4-percent drop), but fell precipitously in January 2010 by roughly 12 percent. In February, the decline in trips was back under 10 percent. The Nielsen data excludes those trips that are for gas only.

Shopping trips to discretionary retailers such as toy, electronic, department, liquor and home improvement stores continue to feel the economic pinch. Electronic, toy and department stores have been hit especially hard, with year-over-year shopping trip declines in the latest four-week period ending February 2010 of 33 percent, 18 percent and 7 percent respectively.

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