Some 57% of the executives at leading retailers included in the survey say that while high fuel costs have done the most to hurt consumer confidence so far this year, going forward they see the main threats to consumer spending in the critical months ahead as being gas prices (47%), the housing market (28%), the pending Presidential election (13%) and inflation (11%).
The poll, which included executives at chains with sales greater than $100 million, found balance sheets are in bad shape: Only 36% say sales increased when comparing the first halves of 2008 to 2007, which is down from the 56% who cited an increase last year. And 44% say comparable-store sales in that period declined.
"Overall, the CFOs estimate that the average comparable-store sales growth for 2008 will be virtually flat, averaging 0.72% growth," it says in its analysis of the poll results. "Retailers may remain wary for the rest of the year."
The good news is that most predict a "meaningful turnaround" in sales by July 2009; the highest concentration of CFOs (28%) believe this will happen in the second quarter.
One way retailers may try to goose sales, predicts Mediamark Research & Intelligence, is by targeting the 62 million consumers who start shopping before Black Friday--the day after Thanksgiving and the official kickoff of the holiday season. That group--about 35.1% of the population--is more likely to be female, in the Baby Boomer age range, and to be heavy purchasers of toys.
"Black Friday may be the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, but--as many retailers have recognized--its strength has diminished as millions of Americans begin their shopping before Thanksgiving," the company says in its release of its latest Omnibus survey. "Understanding who these consumers are and how best to reach them will give marketers a leg up in what is shaping up to a be a difficult holiday season for retailers."