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Most consumers believe economy is in a downturn, survey says

BY Michael Johnsen

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. Even as President-elect Barack Obama’s economy package begins to take form, consumers are still not ready to open their purse strings. Not yet. According to a NPD Group survey released Wednesday, 91 percent of consumers believe the economy is still in a downturn, up from 84 percent who felt that way in April.

“Off-hand, that 7 percent increase may not sound like a lot,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, “but when you turn the spending faucet of 14 million people off, that 7 percent from April to November represents trillions of dollars.”

And the number of consumers who say they will take advantage of sales or coupons has remained relatively steady since July. “So those huge sales that were designed to lure the customer in really don’t seem to have had much of an impact. They aren’t bringing the consumer’s back in to shop,” Cohen said.

Most consumers—57 percent—are cutting back on their spending by cutting down on their number of trips to restaurants, a factor that ought to bode well for grocery outlets. That is followed by cuts in spending on apparel. In the November Consumer Spending Indicator, 52 percent of respondents said they would cut back on apparel spending.

The same categories that were the least vulnerable in last month’s study remain so in the current month’s study with one slight change. Video games and toys remain steady while beauty is being edged out of the No. 3 spot.

Video games take the top spot as the least likely to see cut backs in consumer spending with 32 percent, followed by toys at 36 percent. This month, however, movies took the number three spot at 39 percent. Beauty slipped to forth this month at 41 percent. “But beauty is still showing that women remain loyal to their regimen even in tough times,” Cohen said.

As previously noted, an important measure of how consumers are fairing is how secure they feel about their jobs. In July, 25 percent of respondents said they were not concerned about their jobs, but in November only 19 percent reported they were not concerned.

“This is a number I watch very closely,” Cohen said. “I think it is the best indication of consumer behavior and now, what with the stock market, the political market, the media market and now, the job market, we are seeing an all time low here.”

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Jean Coutu Group launches services, gift card sales online

BY Michael Johnsen

LONGUEUIL, Quebec The Jean Coutu Group on Tuesday launched a new service that allows the purchase of Jean Coutu Gift Cards online.

“The Jean Coutu Group is very proud to offer to Internet users this new service which is available as of today and for all occasions throughout the year,” said Alain Lafortune, senior vice president of purchasing and marketing at Jean Coutu. “This initiative is a first in the retail pharmacy industry in Quebec; it corresponds to our vision and demonstrates our commitment to provide added value to our customers.”

Several selections of gift cards are being offered, the Canadian retailer stated. In addition, the gift card chosen will be inserted in a greeting card which the sender may personalize.

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Rite Aid launches Holiday Gift of Savings program

BY Michael Johnsen

CAMP HILL, Pa. Rite Aid on Tuesday announced the introduction of its Holiday Gift of Savings program, which began Nov. 16 and runs through Dec. 24, where shoppers can receive a Rite Aid gift card valued between $5 and $20 with purchases of between $25 and more than $100.

To receive their gift certificate, customers can pick up a brochure with mail-in form at any Rite Aid or go to Riteaid.com and submit the information from qualifying receipts dated Nov. 16 through Dec. 24. All submissions must be received by Jan. 26, 2009, the company stated.

Rite Aid noted in its release that other ways consumers can save include the free Rite Aid RX Savings Card, the Living More senior loyalty program with discounts for those aged 55 and up and everyday savings with Rite Aid brand products which cost up to 40 percent less than national brands.

Rite Aid also honors the GNC Gold Card in those stores featuring the GNC “Live Well” stores, now in more than 1,700 Rite Aid stores. Gold Card members receive 20 percent off GNC products during the first seven days of every month. The drug store retailer is offering $5 coupon for Gold Card membership on its Web site, www.riteaid.com/stores/gnc/, through Dec. 31.

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