I did a post like this before, and got some criticism because it was “ad hoc” and not generalizable to the economy as a whole. Fine, I admit that. Let me tell you what I have been seeing.
My wife and I informally divide the duties of shopping. She does about 60%, and I do 40%. I like this, because it allows me to keep my feet on the ground as regards the economy. I may have a very traditional marriage, but this is one place where I want to have more play.
After playing “pickle” with my youngest four children (the oldest four were elsewhere), we went to Home Depot and Sears on Tuesday evening. We needed some gardening supplies and a few miscellaneous items. At the Home Depot, I saw three other customers. Compared to two years ago, I would have expected dozens (say 30). There were so few customers that we got instant help from staff (astounding), with the staff freely commenting that my two youngest (girls wearing matching dresses) were pretty as can be. (Aw, I think so too.) At Sears, we were the only customers there. It is a converted KMart, so maybe that makes a difference. The staff outnumbered us 3-1. The merchandising is far better than the old KMart, but the prices are higher as well. Even my children felt things were deserted at both stores. (For a homeschooler, this was time for a few basic economics lessons.)
The Wal-Mart near my house seems normal, and on weekends, above normal. The local Asian food market is more crammed than ever. I go there to buy produce and Asian specialty items. (Did you know that I am a decent cook?) I suspect it is the same as the Wal-Mart effect. As times get tighter, more people look for cheap deals. The prices at the Asian market are way below those of local competitors, but it is not as inviting, because the produce is of varying quality, the music is unusual to the average Westerner, and you have to be comfortable dealing with people whose first language is not English. I find it fun, but not everyone else does.
My wife’s favorite store, Safeway, is much slower. People are cutting expenses, even in relatively wealthy Howard County, and Safeway is suffering. They are offering far more specials than I am used to seeing.
But my biggest suprise was my local 7-11. I know that staff there pretty well, and they tell me that thiongs are a lot slower.
These observations were made over the last two months, and are fascinating to me. Just six months ago, the Home Depot had unchanged volume, but now it is considerably lower. Only places known for low prices have volume consistent with the past. What a tough retail environment.