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Deloitte consumer spending index up for fourth consecutive month

BY Allison Cerra

NEW YORK The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index rose again in September, hitting its highest level in two years. The index attempts to track consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

“The fundamentals of consumer spending continue to improve, giving households increased purchasing power,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist with Deloitte Research, a subsidiary of Deloitte Services LP, and author of the monthly index. “The housing market is beginning to show signs of stabilizing while initial unemployment claims have fallen significantly. Household net worth is rising and real wages are climbing at their fastest pace in 40 years. Signs of recovery got a boost from the cash for clunkers program in August, plus a gain in real spending has materialized across the board in recent months.”

Highlights of the index include:

  • Tax Burden: The tax burden continues to fall with the weakening of the economy. The tax burden is at a level only seen on a few occasions over the past 50 years during brief periods following tax rebates. Continued decline is expected.
  • Initial Unemployment Claims: Initial unemployment claims have come down sharply over the past three months which historically has been a reliable signal of economic recovery. Claims are down more than 100,000 from their recession peak.
  • Real Wages: Real wage growth continues to post solid gains due in large part to falling prices. Real wages are up 4.8 percent from a year ago as falling prices have given a big boost to consumer purchasing power.
  • Real Home Prices: The pace of decline in home prices has slowed significantly on a year over year basis. Continued efforts to forestall foreclosures coupled with a tax credit for first-time home buyers have brought some stability to the housing market. The decline in home prices has made home buying much more affordable.

“The Index suggests that many households increasingly have the means to spend, and with the worst of the downturn seemingly behind us, the retail environment may soon see signs of life,” said Stacy Janiak, vice chairman and Deloitte’s U.S. retail leader. “Retailers have tackled cost cutting and cash conservation and the next few months will likely be all about enticing the consumer to spend. Offering personalized marketing, enhancing in-store customer conversion tactics and encouraging online product reviews are just a few of the ways that retailers may be able to gain an edge this holiday season.”

For more information about Deloitte’s retail sector, please visit www.deloitte.com/us/retail.

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What game are you watching?

BY Rob Eder

“So, who’s bigger—CVS or Walgreens?”

I was at the ECRM Disease State Management show in St. Petersburg, Fla., just a few weeks ago, when a supplier in one of our meetings asked me the question. It was a funny thing, really, and not just because CVS executives, that very day, were up in Little Canada, Minn., to celebrate the grand opening of the company’s 7,000th store; and not even because I knew that within a week, Walgreens would be cutting the ribbon on its 7,000th store. Or even because at the time, both companies already each operated more than 7,000 stores.

It’s because it really doesn’t matter anymore who has the most stores. That’s only one way to measure these companies—the stores are just one component of a much bigger healthcare play.

Think of it as a wheel: The stores are one spoke; the clinics are another; specialty pharmacy, another; mail-order, another; for CVS, a huge PBM is another; for Walgreens, a major presence in work-site care and home infusion is another spoke. The stores, in themselves, do not drive the wheel any more than any other single spoke on the wheel. Health care, and the delivery of it, is what drives the wheel. And that, ultimately, is how these two companies will come to be measured.

Just listen to what the leadership of these two companies has to say about it. Walgreens talks about leveraging 8,000 points of care. “With that foundation, we’re taking Walgreens directly to employers, government entities, managed care companies and PBMs,” Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson told analysts during a Sept. 28 earnings call. Its new deal with Caterpillar is a prime example of that.

So, who’s bigger? For the record, Walgreens was at 7,042 stores the day it celebrated in Brooklyn, N.Y. As of the date of this issue, CVS had 7,017 stores.

But if that’s the way you’re keeping score, you’re watching the wrong game, my friend.

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Shoppers to add retail space, new concepts

BY Jim Frederick

TORONTO —Pushing back forcefully against an economy still struggling to regain its momentum—and capitalizing on the steep drop in real-estate prices spawned by that struggle—Canada’s largest chain drug store brand aggressively is building, expanding and relocating drug stores.

The expansion campaign marks a bold bid by Shoppers Drug Mart to position itself for the eventual recovery that will come to Canada, which has been hard-hit by the worldwide recession. Shoppers president and CEO Jürgen Schreiber outlined the company’s plans at a retail investment conference sponsored by Scotia Capital Sept. 22.

Shoppers will expand or relocate more than 60 stores in 2009, Schreiber said, and another 71 next year. The chain also will continue to build new stores, with a particular focus on western Canada and Quebec province, both of which he said are “under-represented” by the Shoppers brand.

The company also will continue to dense up in the nation’s top 10 urban markets, Schreiber told analysts. Noting the company’s “strong balance sheet and cash flow,” the CEO said the store-construction and acquisition campaign would be “largely financed with operating cash flow.”

As of the end of the second quarter, Shoppers’ sales were up 8.5% year-to-date, with same-store pharmacy sales growing 5.7% and revenues up 4% at the front end. In spite of the recession, Shoppers also grew its net earnings 6.9% over the same period last year, to $243 million Canadian.

Shoppers has worked steadily to boost both its store count across Canada and the size of its stores. Since 2002, the company has grown from 844 drug stores averaging 6,900 sq. ft. to 1,119 stores at the end of 2008, averaging 9,400 sq. ft. As of September, Shoppers operated 1,191 drug stores and 66 home healthcare outlets coast to coast, easily making it the nation’s largest single drug store chain. (Katz Group Canada owns more than 1,800 drug stores across Canada, but it operates under a variety of banners.)

Underscoring Shoppers’ determination to position itself for the next economic recovery, Schreiber pointed to an accelerating growth rate in retail square footage. In 2008, the chain grew its square footage by 11.9%, compared with a growth rate of 6.4% in 2002.

The chain also is pursuing new formats. Among them: Murale, a new beauty store concept featuring what the company described as “an unprecedented assortment of luxury, dermatological, fragrance and niche brands from around the world.”

“Murale is unlike any other beauty offering in North America with its unique combination of leading beauty and dermatological products, and professional, expert services and consultation,” Schreiber said.

Shoppers has opened three of the new-concept beauty stores, including its newest unit, which opened in Toronto Sept. 4. The concept is “performing in line with expectations,” Schreiber said, and four more Murale stores will open this fall.

The company also has unveiled another new concept, Shoppers Simply Pharmacy, which company representative Tammy Smitham described as “a 1,000-sq.-ft. format located within medical buildings and adjacent to medical clinics.” Shoppers now licenses or owns more than 32 of the medical clinic pharmacies, with more on the way.

Shoppers also is ramping up in other ways. More than 400 of its units across Canada are now open to midnight or 24 hours, and full-scale convenience foods departments are now offered in more than 600 Shoppers stores. Nearly 600 stores also provide postal service.

Responding to what Schreiber acknowledged is a “flat” market for in-store photo services and the continuing need to upgrade the stores’ appeal, Shoppers also is embarking on a program to transform the photo departments in its stores to a “services corner” that features a broader array of customer services, the executive said.

“Shoppers is about service, and service areas are winners,” Schreiber said. Such ancillary categories as cameras, batteries, games and accessories continue to perform well at the photo department, he added.

Schreiber sees plenty to like in Shoppers’ future. Among the company’s strengths driving sales, he told analysts:

Shoppers is “uniquely positioned in the marketplace” with a “core offering focused on health, beauty and convenience. We continue to gain share in a growing market,” he noted.

The chain’s Optimum shopper loyalty card has enrolled 9.7 million active cardholders and added a new, co-branded credit card offering in partnership with MasterCard. Optimum now accounts for 65% of all scanned customer transactions, according to the company, and cardholders are growing their shopping baskets at a faster rate than those not participating in the Optimum program, Schreiber said.

Like their American counterparts, Canadian consumers have been hit hard by the recession. But they’re stocking up on Shoppers brand products and treating themselves to “small luxuries” in the stores, Schreiber said, adding that the dismal economy has been “good for private label,” as consumers have become “price-sensitive and promotion-driven.” What’s more, he added, the consumer “loves Optimum more than ever.”

Shoppers has expanded its lineup of prestige beauty and skin care products, with the addition of 15 more prestige brands in 2009, bringing to 117 the total number of high-end items in the beauty and dermatology departments of the store. Shoppers now operates Beauty Boutique departments in more than 200 of its drug stores, with 30 more planned by the end of the year. That gives the chain “more points of distribution than department stores combined” in Canada, Shoppers’ CEO said.

The company’s stake in the total Canadian pharmacy market continues to climb, IMS Health reported, from slightly more than 18% of total prescriptions sold in 2003, to nearly 20.3% as of July 2009.

Shoppers’ market share also has grown steadily for categories sold at the front of the store, according to AC Nielsen, with the chain now accounting for a 14.9% share of total market.

Canada’s population continues to age as more baby boomers enter the years of high prescription drug utilization. The number of Canadian seniors ages 60 to 79 is projected to rise from 5.1 million in 2008 to 8.7 million by 2026, Schreiber said.

By 2011, Canada’s total retail prescription sales are projected to rise to $25.1 billion from $21.5 billion in 2008, according to Shoppers’ president.

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