Thursday, April 29, 2010

Consumer Confidence is up, but Test Looms

Wal-Mart chief executive Mike Duke said on Tuesday that the 150 million customers who shop his stores each week are still being hammered by the recession. In addition, higher gas prices are eating into household budgets, resulting in fewer shopping trips.

"Some would say there is a recovery taking place," Duke said during a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. "The lower-income and middle-income customers . . . they still feel the pressure."

In addition, he said that the weak housing market continued to hold back the recovery in states such as Florida and Nevada. During the boom years, many jobs in those states were fueled by a surge of construction that has since abated, drying up the demand for labor.

"It will take housing to create some of those jobs," Duke said.

He said shoppers are still trading down in food purchases, and the company's internal research shows that the percentage of mothers who report job security and availability as a top concern has risen 5 percent since January. The world's largest retailer has responded to the pressures on its customers by keeping a laser-like focus on prices, most recently slashing prices on roughly 10,000 products across its stores.

"That's just an area we will not give an inch on," Duke said.