A casual walk through the local shopping mall gives a quick snapshot of America’s current economic situation. Home goods stores overstocked with inventory that will not sell, retail clothing stores decked out in red not because of Valentine’s Day but because of clearance sales, and electronic stores still attempting to sell last year’s Christmas Day large plasma screen TVs. Even mall anchor stores, like JC Penney’s and Dillard’s seem like a tribute to the frivolous consumerism of yesteryear as faddish jewelry, purses, and dresses remain on display untouched and unsold for months instead of weeks or days. Racks are full of old DVDs and CDs, and even video game stores have an unprecedented number of new and used games filling their displays.
Anticipating poor Valentine Day sales, many retail stores like Old Navy have opted to place holiday items at post-holiday sales, with heart studded shirts and pants already on sale two for one. Victoria’s Secret, usually full around the romantic holiday, seems like an empty homage to a friskier and more carefree time. In today’s economy, spending upwards of $25 for a frilly undergarment seems silly when there are more pressing bills like groceries, rent, utilities, or even dealing with the current ice storm problems.
Many retail stores seem to be in blatant denial. While some retail stores, like JC Penney’s and Bath and Body Works, are boasting sales up to 75% off the original price, other retail stores insist on keeping sales only at 10-20%. Even Circuit City, which has been slowly digging its grave, has most large ticket items at only 20% off. A large percentage of Americans have worked at some point in retail and sales, and are well aware of price mark-ups. Stores that insist on keeping their goods at price levels only suitable to a healthy economy will continue to see their profits plummet. While retailers are not directly responsible for the current economic problems, continuing to keep prices high only futher deters cash-strapped consumers. Meanwhile, other retail stores attempt to stay afloat by offering tempting sales, rebate offers, two for one deals, and even zero percent financing.
Needless to say, stores like Wal Mart, grocery stores, and dollar stores will continue to survive through what has been called “The Great Depression 2.0”. While economists give some glimmer of hope (we may be bottoming out within the next year or two), there is a good chance that one of the casualties will be the American consumer institution known as the mall.