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PSW Holiday Shopping Survey

I finally went to the mall yesterday.

I guess that makes me part of 2 trends.  I am one of those last-minute shoppers that finally went out and got done yesterday while Tina bought EVERYTHING on-line this year and I don't even think she's waiting for any more shipments at this point.  If you get used to cyber-shopping, it's easy to see why the trend is growing but on-line retail is still nothing more than a speck (5%) on overall retail sales and that's AFTER being up more than 20% this year.

So I went to the trenches on Saturday, where the real people shop (well, the real, upper-middle class people, anyway) at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey – one of America's larger and busier malls made even more so on a Saturday because Bergen County has blue laws and retail is closed on Sundays so yesterday was do or die in Paramus with just 3 more shopping days until Christmas. 

I took the kids at about 10 am and the first sign of trouble was that we got a pretty good parking spot.  On a normal Saturday at the Garden State Plaza, you can't get a good spot anyway and on a normal Christmas you can expect a half-mile hike from your car to the mall.  When I got inside, it was even stranger, there were so few children in the mall that the carousel was empty so my kids jumped right on that as we spend our first dollar of the day.  Riding around the carousel I saw something that didn't cost anything – there was a MSFT XBox demo station set up with very cool driving set-ups with seats and wheels and big screens and full band set-ups for playing Guitar Hero on a little stage and about 6 other game demo areas – right in the middle of that part of the mall AND IT WAS EMPTY. 

If nothing else had worried me about Christmas before, that would have been it because who doesn't want to play free video games on big-screen high-def TVs with all the coolest attachments (they had sports-car seats and a wheel/pedals combo that they said cost $100 (not the seat) and was sold out at Game Stop)?  Something was very wrong.  Leggo land was also empty so maybe people just didn't want to bring kids to the mall this weekend but that begs the question why?  Is it because they don't want to have to say no over and over again this year? 


I was generally struck by the lack of lines everywhere.  The busiest stores I visited were Old Navy (GPS) and Victoria's Secret (LTD) but neither one annoyed me (last year Tina lost out as I quit the line at Victoria's Secret after a half hour – this one was 15 mins tops).   MCD in the mall also had a huge line so the kids and I had lunch at Fudrucker's down the road and they were scary empty.  I think the scariest emptiness I saw was Nordstroms (JWN), which was 3 floors of a ghost town and so many "sale" racks that they looked like Sears.  Macy's (M) was so empty we had an army of personal shoppers in each department as sales people had nothing else to do and I bought 3 things at 3 registers and only at one of them was there a person ahead of me. 

Jewelry stores were very sad places to visit and even the Hallmark store had smaller than usual lines.  We bought something from one of those photo-etching people in a kiosk and the guy gave us a 20% discount before we had a chance to ask and then offered us another for 50% off if we were willing to take 2.  That's probably not a good sign either!  

So that is my retail adventure for the weekend – please tell us yours as it's a great way to gian insight as to what's hot and what's not around the country.  Try to include the symbols for the companies you discuss and be sure to give us a good idea, geographically of where you are shopping.  Last year we got a great picture of what was going on in the country and it kept us from falling for the media hype about holiday shopping last year.  Only by comparing many people's experiences can we begin to get a good picture of the retail situation in this country,   Thanks!


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  1. Good morning! 

    Please keep comments under this post about the Retail Sector and our experiences.  Other questions should go in the wrap-up or whatever new posts come up.  


    - Phil

  2. how was the weather??

  3. Weather was fine yesterday but no one is going anywhere this morning.

  4.  Live in Norfolk, Virginia which has been relatively shielded from the recession by the enormous military presence and the fact that we didn’t really have the real estate boom and bust. Last night was invited to a friend’s birthday celebration at one of the top restaurants in the city. Hadn’t been there in a couple years. Couldn’t believe it. Saturday night, 8 PM and I counted 7 empty tables out of about 20 or 21. By nine the place was pretty much empty. The weather was cold but no snow here. To me its just another example of the "real" economy and the economy we are "sold" on TV and by talking heads. In the real world the recession is not over.

  5. Good Morning!  What I have found is that there is a limited supply of the "good stuff" and if you do find it, there seems to be little or no discounting. There is a electronic chain out here called Frys and they have been pushing computers for the last few weeks that are a decent deal mainly because they are refurbished. Even some of the large electronic E-tailers (ex. JR’s in New York) are pushing alot of refurbished product. Maybe it has always been that way and I had not noticed, but I don’t think so…….

  6. At the mall of America in Minneapolis, people were fighting over parking, and shoppers from Wisconsin. Were going back home because of the parking. I did not go to the mall; this is from the local news. 
    The Target store in Woodbury Mn.  Parking lot was full during the the day and half full at about 10 30 last night.

  7. The Austin airport was practically empty when we left for our holiday trip to Orlando. Not that Austin is the retail/financial epicenter of the world but strange to see minimal holiday travelers. Our folks in Orlando don’t think the Disney parks have been jam-packed like they usually are this time of year. To do my part in support of my short V position, I shall be paying for everything with Cash on this trip.

  8. I’m $7000 into my ready-reserve checking already so I’m not going anywhere near a mall.

  9. My Father decided to retire last year.  We are just middle class so nothing fancy, but after working for Bechtel for 30 years he had a little over a million in his 401k and decided that he could live on a 5k check every month.  He turned his money over to a professional and in march took at least a 30% hair cut.  Well, he had to go back to work.  Which totally sucks because he is 67 years old.
    He manages steam generator replacement projects.  It turns out that if you have a power plant, regardless of how they generate the heat, the thing that actually makes the electricity is a turbine spun by steam.  I dont know exactly how long they last, but these things need to be replaced about every 10 years.  During the replacement they have to shut down the power plant (called an outage).  So they plan for a year then work pretty much 24-7 till the plant is up and running again.  He is in florida near orlando doing one of these right now.
    I now live in Cleveland, parents used to be happily retired in Saint Mary’s city, Maryland, now we are going to visit Dad in Orlando this christmas.  So I should be able to give a first-hand account of what Disney looks like this Christmas.  Also, I figure my Dad has to know something about the Power industry I just need to know what kind of questions to ask.  Anyone have any questions out there I can relay?

  10. Here in Oklahoma City, malls are crowded.

  11. Phil the story and picture tells a 1000 words, and indeed does not look good.
    Here in Cancun Costco, Sams are full of shoppers and it is difficult to find parking guess all the once still have some money are here on vacation and spending their money.
    So we will see what gives after Christmas. The only difference I have noticed in our pawn shops. Normally the month of Dec we receive a mount of money in redeems. This year there are much more loans than redeems indicating people have no money. Buying of jewelery very little in deed.
    Here they all waiting for the high season tourist trade. I do have my daughts hoping I am wrong.
    At this time all of you have a nice Christmas and successful New Year.

  12. Well I’m sitting in an RV park outside of Tucson (enjoying the warm weather); we did 99% of our shopping on line this year; we went by the main Tucson mall yesterday and it was packed (at least the parking lot was).  Traffic around all the shopping areas was much heavier than a normal Saturday.  Had dinner at an upscale restaurant and it was packed; they were turning people away. 

  13. Downtown Disney was packed in Orlando, but then again Santy Claus was supposed to be there. Heading to Animal Kingdom tomorrow – we’ll see if it’s the same story and if the Silverback Gorilla also confirms that shorting V is a good idea.

  14. Phil, Mixed batch in San Diego the low to mid end, Steinmart & Wal-Mart were busy.  Best Buy Store Hopping, Costco, Painfully busy. Down, main mall, Macy’s etc…more quiet than usual, Pier One, Michaels’’ ( Craft Sore) busy….odd part out here, Grocery stores have a 10 day sale going up until the 24th…Meaning Low prime rib loss leaders, and deep discount Ham’s and Turkey’s, Carts weren’t packed but there seemed to be a steady stream of customers. Not the usual crazy arm wrestling over the last Roast.

  15. Nashville – visiting friends -
    Went to Green Hill Mall at 10 am Sat. when it opened. No threat of snow – easy parking – not many shoppers – upscale – Burberry, Luis Viton (one customer only), Macy’s, Brooks Brothers etc.
    J. Crew had it’s standard $59 Chinos on sale for $29. I did have the sales person check on some other sale items with the catogue warehouse and they were sold out in my size (normal mediums) – for what that is worth so I guess they moved many of those sale items.
    Burberry also had some stuff for 30% off.
    Live in NYC so I don’t know if activity level was normal but it was very empty – had 3 people at J. Crew waiting on us -
    Did seem to be getting very crowded parking wise when we left at noon. Do people in the South just shop later – I don’t know.

  16. On several local news stations last night, they reported on Saturday sales in NYC in the 34th St. area (where Macy’s is, and now JCP, and a couple of malls and lots of VNO retail).
    The local BID group (business improvement district) is called the 34th Street partnership; and they did a literal "bag count" … had people with counters out there counting the people who were leaving stores with bags.
    In 2008, the bag count was 12,000 + on so-called "Super Saturday".
    Yesterday, the bag count was 5,000.
    Granted, a big snow storm was expected, but had not begun, and people probably stayed home from Long Island or Jersey or wherever.
    But that is pretty damn grim.

  17. Last year SPY into year end:









    $ 0.719 Dividend





    Rally only in last 2 days; fwiw.   Last year was very different of course, but its good to look back. 

  18. For what it’s worth, the stores in Thailand are packed, and the MSM Asian News networks (China, Taiwan, Singapore) are all reporting strong shopping seasons (so maybe it’s true or not). The most interesting thing I can kick in is on the gold front. A large majority of people here do not invest in stocks, bonds, etc. but in gold. Only gold. When I suggested to my relatives here last week that gold has gone up quite a bit and maybe it was a good time to sell some, they all looked at me like I was certifiably insane!!! The tell here is that gold is what they know because it’s such a huge investment vehicle. Many people check the daily price as frequently as you and I would check the weather forecast. And every time we have exchanged opinions on the prospects of gold, they have been right every time and I have been wrong every time. Take that for what you will.

  19. Do you folks think that the big snow storm might have helped AMZN?
    For G-d’s sake, I had to order some gift at AMZN last week.  I discovered that they had a special offer of 1-month free trial of "Amazon Prime", which gives you 2-day shipping for free.  So, I took advantage of that trial and placed my order last Wednesday.  Sure enough, I got the shipment via UPS Friday.  The Amazon Prime is a good deal.  If you place your order Monday, you can get your shipment Wednesday, just in time for Christmas.
    I still have the AMZN short position.  It’s close to green but not yet.  I certainly hope that my shopping at AMZN doesn’t hurt my shorts!

  20. cwan
    I believe AMZN will prosper this year, so I am long. Thank you for your purchase!

  21. I live in Massachusetts so obviously the storm kept most everyone home on Sunday.  I went to BBBY at Patriot Place at noon and there were 3 customers in the store including me and my wife.  At leat the stores can now blame the weather if and when they miss their numbers. 

  22. AMZN prime is good for the customer if you order a lot from AMZN.
    But, AMZN also offers free shipping on many items anyway; and in my experience it comes pretty quickly.
    I would not pay extra $ for AMZN prime; but I also don’t pay for service plans that stores try to sell on PCs or TVs or other electronics.
    Gel … AMZN may do well; but the valuation is absurd.  Do you have a valuation model or expectation that would put you long at 129 per share ?

  23.  cwan – i did the amzn prime for the free month and then canceled – nice service.
    In  Lexington, KY visiting the folks.  Rainy/Slushy – stores at busiest strip mall, Hamburg Pavilion were unimpressive -Best buy, dick’s, target, old navy.  usually a traffic nightmare that requires thirty minutes to exit parking lot – five minutes today.  huge discounts at old navy & dick’s (which is just fun to say).

  24. Cap/AMZN
    My position is solely based upon the recent unrealistic valuation this stock has experienced of late.and assuming this will prevail at least for a short period of time. Normally I would be short based upon stats, but I believe common sense does not prevail at this time of the year, and assuming their normal expectations will be enhanced from the growing trend of increased on- line sales – Maybe 6-8% of retail from the normal 5% share because of adverse weather, concern about catching the flu from the crowds, and the increased confidencee in anticipation of good on- time delivery. I’m not betting the farm on this one… just working the crap table!  Oh, also, I once heard "Buy when it snows, and sell when it goes"

  25. Palo Alto, CA. I was at the Stanford Shopping Center the last two weekends, and both weekends the mall has been packed! I was actually quite disappointed as I expected it to be much less crowded. Parking was extremely difficult to find, throngs of people. My fiancee must have waited a half hour in line at the MAC Cosmetics store…the line was at least 30 people deep. A few weekends ago I drove through the IKEA parking lot and it was a similar story…I was so overwhlemed by the number of cars that I just left. The mall down in San Jose seemed to be quite busy as well. AAPL store was crazy busy as always.

  26. Wow, so far we have a generally bullish picture.  Certainly not a catastrope…

  27. I spoke to a manager at the local Wal-Mart about what they’re seeing…his "15-year of loyal service" nametag led me to believe he’s seen enough to know how they were doing.  He said their total volume of sales was down, but their profit was way up – he said interestingly that more people were buying big-ticket items than any of the previous years he recalled.

  28. In Orlando at my local mall, Fashion Sq, about a third less stores than last year. Foot traffic very light on my midweek visit. Much less inventory in the stores. Same story at BBY, Michaels, and Sports Authority. On Saturday went to the high mall, Millinea, traffic backed from highway, but easily found a parking spot near a door, foot traffic didn’t seem that busy compared to prior years. No great sales to find either! IKEA was the same way the lot was full but have seen it worse.

  29. NE Pa (Pocono region)
    I arrived at Best Buy (BBY) at around 9 am on 12/19 and the parking lot was not even half full, other stores in the strip mall are Borders Books (BGP) and a Pet Smart (PETM). I walked in and was able to get the WII fitness plus and I was going to get DJ Hero (which they had plenty of for $119.00) but my wife told me that Target (TGT) had it for $89.00, so I went to one of the 3 empty cashiers to check out and leave for Target. Target’s parking lot was about half full but no DJ Hero’s left (which were $99.00, apparently the $89 price was for on-line purchases) but I picked up a game for my son and a new day planner for my wife (yes a very exciting gift) for my son to give her.
    I needed to get rock salt for the impending snow storm, which thankfully dumped on Philly, NJ and NY for a change, so I was going to go next door to the Home Depot (HD) because I could almost count the cars parked there on one hand but my wife called and told me that she was going to pick it up on her way home if I would stop at my parents to pick up the deep fryer for my son’s school project (he picked Idaho for his state and he is making potato chips as part of his project). So on my way to my parents I went past the Crossing’s outlet stores and noticed a lot of parking available from my view from Rt 80. Turns out my wife didn’t get the rock salt so I stopped at the local Ace hardware and I was one of 3 people in the store. The Shop Rite next door was packed but we had snow coming so I suppose it was all toilet paper, milk, bread and eggs--plus the state liquor store is attached to the Shop Rite. So that sums up my Sat. shopping excursion, i.e. pretty easy shopping day.
    FWIW, my friend works for UPS and said the holiday peak is down from last year and last year was a down season as well.
    Hope this helps

  30. So what’s happened with the inverse dollar stock market relationship.  Good to see oil and gold correcting.

  31. We are in Mexico City. The malls are packed. Difficult to find parking spaces. Of course the malls are for high income earners as prices in Mexico are easily 30% more expensive than the states. Mexico City has 20 Mill + population. We shopped in the southern part of the city in a very upscale mall called Perisur, which also has restaurantes and cinemas, both of which were full. No sale items yet, that will come day after Chistmass, I guess it was late shopping and guilty concience. Happy Christmass all

  32.  Just returned from the mall here in Bangor, Maine.  Not very many people were out and about.  I took a survey of several clerks in different stores………."How does the number of shoppers compare with last year?" was my question.  Almost all said "Less than last year."  

  33. Last Sat. in Thailand went to Siam Paragon, the biggest and upscale mall in Bangkok. The place was packed, we spent maybe 2 hours there, eating, etc. The thing I noticed was that hardly anyone was carrying packages and bags. The common areas were packed but the stores themselves were not doing too much business it seemed. Thais liike to go to malls sometimes for the air cond. (this is especially true in Cambodia) and is something to do with no buying in mind – to meet friends, etc.

  34.  Went to the local mall last night (Peabody, MA) and the place was packed. Shoppers everywhere. Christmas came, it came just the same!

  35. My wife called last night to relay how unbelievably packed Tiffany’s (TIF) was at the Oakbrook, IL mall (western suburb of Chicago).  She said the mall in general was much more crowded than she expected. 

  36. I went to the mall with my kids (Willowbrook in Wayne, NJ) and it was more crowded than before Xmas but might have had something to do with it being Sunday and our neighboring county is closed on Sundays so everyone comes here.  Apple store was amazing with 30 reps that I counted in front of store and at least 100 people inside and there was a constant stream of people coming from the stock room to re-stock items. 

    I realized something very cool and smart about the Apple store – unlike the Sony Store or the Bose Store, Apple carries and features lots of stuff made by other people that works with their products.  That makes you feel more like buying because you don’t get the feeling that there is anything else to look at (including PCs since they offer plenty with INTC now).  They had a 27" IMac for $1,699.  I think I paid $2,499 for just my 30" display when I bought it years ago and this thing is thinner and includes a whole computer!

    My kids got the IPod Touch for XMas and they were going nuts looking at all the accessories they can get.  You can really see how great these entry-level things are to suck new customers into the Apple lifesyle.  They are also clever with the Apps because my kids have about 50 free games already loaded (and there are some 2 player games they can play together on Wi-Fi) but they are already making lists of which ones they "need" to upgrade to pay to get all the features etc..

    The rest of the mall was full of people but not too many bags.  Perhaps people looking for post-holiday sales and not finding anything too exciting (at least I wasn’t excited).  We were just as bad as we ate lunch (CAKE was packed at 2pm) but bought nothing – my kids have gift cards but we don’t let them make impulse purchases so they have to decide what they really want for next week now.

    By the way, Marla Singer had a brilliant pictoral article about her trip to the Mall in LA on Chritmas Eve.