Levin Mid-Year Retail Survey Results Bode Well For Industry
The fact that the harsh winter weather of early 2014 is in the past, continued general optimism and the leveraging of technology in the marketing mix bode well for the retail industry heading into the heart of 2014, according to Levin Management's mid-year Retail Sentiment Survey. The North Plainfield, N.J., retail real estate services firm this week reported the results of its annual June poll of store managers within its 95-property, 13 million-square-foot shopping center portfolio.
The survey results indicate that while early 2014 sales may not have shown significant growth over 2013, Memorial Day weekend sales were strong. While only 42.9 percent of respondents indicated that year-to-date sales were the same or higher as the same period in 2013 (down slightly from 43.7 percent of respondents in Levin's 2013 mid-year survey), 49.5 percent reported that their Memorial Day weekend sales were the same or better than last year (up from 37.5 percent in the 2013 survey).
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that total retail sales for the March through May 2014 period were up 4.3 percent from the same period a year ago. "Our lackluster year-to-date sales findings counter the positive trending reported by the government, but regional conditions may well have come into play," noted Matthew K. Harding, president of Levin Management, which is active primarily in the Northeast. "A majority of our respondents - 58.2 percent - indicated they believe adverse weather conditions during the first months of the year had a negative impact on their sales."
On the other hand, the survey results regarding Memorial Day performance do fall in line with industry findings. According to Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), Americans spent $50.7 billion dollars during Memorial Day Weekend, up $1.9 billion from last year.
Within this context, retailers are maintaining a positive outlook for the remainder of 2014. More than half (52.0 percent) of Levin's respondents believe that sales will improve in the coming months. This represents a significant jump over last year's survey, when only 34.5 percent anticipated improving sales. Another 16.3 percent anticipate that their sales will remain about the same during the second half of 2014.
Hiring trends among Levin survey respondents mirror last year. Identical percentages in the mid-year 2014 and mid-year 2013 surveys indicated that they have increased store staff since January (33.3 percent) and/or plan to add jobs during the second half of the year (27.6 percent). Store expansion plans, however, are on the rise. At mid-year, 30.6 percent of respondents indicated that their company has or will open new stores in 2014. This is up significantly from 23.3 percent in 2013.
"The positive outlook and the expansion plans among our survey respondents reflect retailer confidence in the marketplace," Harding said. "The hiring and growth-trend findings do parallel what we are observing in our shopping centers and throughout the industry. Some retailers are continuing to right-size as their stores come up for renewal, to gain more efficient, streamlined operation. At the same time, a significant number of concepts are opening new stores and gaining market share in our region."
Technology Tools Integral to Marketing Mix
It comes as no surprise that technology has become integral to the retail marketing mix for Levin survey respondents. A vast majority (86.5 percent) indicated that their company actively uses mobile apps, social media, email, texting and other tools to attract customers.
"This number is up slightly from our 2013 survey, when 85.1 percent of our respondents indicated that they were using technology in marketing," Harding said. "Yet a full 68.4 percent said their use of technology has increased since then. That is an impressive number and indicates that not only is technology an established part of the mix but that its role is growing."
Social media is an important part of this new paradigm. A recent article in Chain Store Age cites analytics firm Blueocean Market Intelligence in its report that "brands will [continue to] move away from a one-way content marketing push, instead leveraging social media to drive engagement, timely conversations and personalized customer interactions."
For Levin survey respondents that are employing social media in their marketing efforts, Facebook is a clear leader, with 93.9 percent using the platform. Twitter and Instagram are being used by 57.3 and 35.4 percent of social-media-savvy respondents. These "top three" remain static from findings in Levin's pre-holiday 2013 survey. However, Pinterest has replaced Foursquare as the fourth most popular social media platform. A growing number (26.8 percent) are using Pinterest for marketing.
A recent article in DigiDay calls Pinterest the most "commerce-friendly" of the social media platforms. The writer notes "Pinterest has the greatest inherent purchase intent. It's visual and focuses on products, qualities that give the platform clear commerce applications."
Levin Management's next retail sentiment survey will be conducted in the fall, prior to the holiday shopping season. Between now and then, Harding anticipates good things for the industry. "From our vantage point, performance is a little ahead of last year," he said. "We continue to see a variety of tenants out looking for space in our market. Vacancy rates are becoming tight and rents are creeping up on higher-quality properties in core locations. Looking ahead, we likely will see the continuation of the trend of alternative uses as some of the secondary locations, which will further strengthen fundamentals across the board."
Levin Management is one of the nation's leading retail real estate services firms, offering a full range of services including leasing, property management, accounting, construction management and marketing. With headquarters in North Plainfield, Levin serves properties ranging from neighborhood, community, lifestyle and power centers, to enclosed malls, street retail, downtown stores and mixed-use projects in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia and North Carolina. In business for six decades, the company taps into its associated, expansive tenant roster to conduct its Retail Sentiment Surveys three times each year, providing insight on industry trends and sales performance.