Brace for More of the Same in 2009, Experts Warn
Fresh on the heels of a report from the Department of Commerce that December retail sales dropped 2.7 percent, more than double the 1.2 percent decline Wall Street analysts predicted, comes more bad news for multichannel retailers: 2009 doesn't figure to be any better. Such was the sentiment of a panel of retail experts during a session at this month's National Retail Federation Convention & Expo in New York.
Panelists Peter Solomon, founder and chairman of the investment banking advisory firm the Peter J. Solomon Co., Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of the financial research firm Moody's Economy.com, and Myron “Mike” Ullman III, chairman/CEO of J.C. Penney, rehashed what a devastating year 2008 was for many merchants and provided their forecasts for 2009 and beyond.
Improve Your Financial Standing
Prior to introducing the panelists, the session's moderator, Christopher Donnelly, executive partner at the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company Accenture, listed three steps companies can take to improve their financial standings in this troublesome economy:
- be obsessive about your customers, he said, citing an example of Staples Canada implementing videoconferencing with its customer service reps into its in-store experience;
- constantly think about acquiring high-quality talent, he noted, recognizing the current job-sharing program that Proctor & Gamble and Google have formed; and
- optimize your capital base while focusing on your customer base, including looking for solid investment opportunities such as acquisitions during this depressed period.
While hopeful for a positive change with the new administration in Washington, D.C., the panelists said they aren't expecting any miracles. “It's more than dollars and cents; it's confidence,” Zandi said. To help marketers restore this confidence, he listed three factors:
- The Federal Reserve being incredibly aggressive with interest rates.
- Wisely spending the $350 billion remaining from the previous administration's bailout stimulus package.
- A new economic package that's large enough to stimulate spending.
“We have a one-time shot here to borrow at pretty low interest rates,” Zandi noted.