• Fitness Chains Lead Retail Foot Traffic Gains, Consumer Confidence Improves, Seasonal Retail Hiring

    Fitness Chains Lead Retail Traffic Gains

    Consumers looking to shape up and leave the pandemic behind them made fitness chains among the top gainers for retail foot traffic during the past year, according to a new report from analytics firm Placer.ai.

    Crunch Fitness, Planet Fitness and their multiple rivals collectively boosted their fourth-quarter customer visits nearly 17% from a year earlier when some pandemic restrictions were still in place and almost 12% from the pre-pandemic fourth quarter of 2019. That capped off a year that saw fitness chain traffic rise 29% from full-year 2021 and 14.5% from full-year 2019.

    “Fitness was one of the major winners of 2022, and the data suggests that the sector is likely to continue overperforming other consumer categories in 2023 as well,” the Placer.ai report said. “The positive visit patterns between mid-November and late December are especially promising, as the end of the year is traditionally a weaker period for the category ahead of its annual January surge.”

    Well before the pandemic, fitness chains had growing importance for retail property owners in helping them counter declining traffic at merchandise stores increasingly losing customers to online shopping, causing many retailers to close brick-and-mortar locations.

    No major category had year-over-year gains on par with fitness chains during 2022, though others saw their visitor traffic rise considerably from 2019. Placer.ai said those included cosmetics retailers like Ulta Beauty and Bath & Body Works at 21.4%; and dollar-store chains including Family Dollar and Five Below at 21.3%.

    Consumer Confidence Improves

    Gradual easing of gas prices and other inflation helped boost U.S. consumer sentiment in the latest tracking by the University of Michigan, with its latest monthly confidence index registering at 64.6 for January.

    That’s up from 59.7 in December but slightly below January 2022’s 67.2, according to preliminary figures released Jan. 13 and subject to future revision. Numbers above 50 signify that a majority of national survey respondents have a generally favorable view of the overall economy and their own financial prospects.

    Survey director Joanne Hsu said consumer sentiment remained low in the latest survey by historical standards but rose for the second-consecutive month. Current assessments of personal finances surged to their highest level in eight months based on higher incomes and easing inflation, Hsu said in a statement, though there is lingering high uncertainty about inflation over the long term.

    A separate index number in the University of Michigan survey gauging respondents’ views specifically on current economic conditions registered at 68.6 for January, up from December’s 59.4 but below the 72 reading for January 2022. Another gauging year-ahead expectations registered at 62 for January, compared with 59.9 for December and 64.1 for January 2022.

    In its own statement, research firm Oxford Economics said the new confidence numbers were encouraging, though it is standing by prior projections of continued guarded consumer spending in the current inflationary climate “because the relationship between sentiment and consumption is loose, at best.”

    Seasonal Retail Hiring Falls to 13-Year Low

    Despite a relatively strong employment climate, retailers added the lowest number of workers during 2022’s fourth quarter —typically the industry’s strongest for hiring because of holiday seasonal demand — since 2009, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

    The firm cited Labor Department data showing the 519,400 jobs added by retailers in the fourth quarter was 26% below the year-earlier figure and the lowest since the 495,800 added in the fourth quarter of 2009 during the Great Recession.

    “Employers had a lot of challenges entering the holiday season,” Senior Vice President Andrew Challenger said in a statement Jan. 11. “They needed to account for the possibility of inflation-related low spending, as well as whether they would be able to actually find the talent to fill positions.”

    The fourth quarter hinted at challenges that could linger well into 2023, as retail and other industries have thousands of jobs that remain unfilled with unemployment historically low at 3.5%. Challenger’s firm noted, for instance, that fourth-quarter hiring was down 20% from a year earlier in the transportation and warehousing industry.

    The firm noted many industries also remain cautious about filling vacant positions as they weigh their business prospects in the early months of 2023.

    Source: www.CoStar.com