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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Category: Retail
November 26, 2014 at 10:44 AM

The holiday outlook, in six charts

News about the most important season for the retail industry follows a predictable pattern: initial forecasts of robust sales, confused but generally optimistic noise as holiday shopping gets underway, the beginning of doubts at the end, followed by disappointing reality come February. I make no predictions. But here are six charts that show us where we…


Comments | More in Retail | Topics: Black Friday, Holiday shopping, Outlook

November 21, 2014 at 10:11 AM

Vote: Your holiday shopping plans

“Are you ready for the holidays?” If another person asks me that, I’m going to wrap them in a bow. I’m still mentally back in the catch-up from September. But here we are: Black Friday looms. The unemployment rate has fallen from 7 percent last November to 5.8 percent. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index is…


Comments | More in Retail | Topics: Black Friday, Holiday shopping, Retail

December 2, 2013 at 10:42 AM

Wages, debt drag on holiday sales

It is too early to know how the holiday retail season turns out, but some early indicators are not good. According to the National Retail Federation, sales through the entire Black Friday weekend actually declined by 3.9 percent compared with the same period last year.

The data will be noisy until after the first of next year, but some metrics are clear.

The average American family makes less, adjusted for inflation, than it did in 1989. Although productivity has risen, wages have largely stagnated. Nearly 40 percent of workers made less than $20,000 in 2012Older workers are increasingly left to work in the low-wage fast-food sector.

The lowest-income households have barely seen any growth in recent decades. Economic mobility, once a cornerstone of a growing middle class, has become more difficult. Even before the devastating Great Recession, the top 1 percent (and the top one-hundredth of 1 percent) had seen their share of income skyrocket.


Comments | More in Inequality, Retail

November 29, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Social responsibility and holiday shopping

People who want to be citizens instead of “consumers” face a conundrum during the hyper-commercialized holiday shopping season. America consumes more than it produces, adding to greenhouse gasses through the 10,000-mile supply chain and killing jobs through the trade deficit. The temptation is to drop out.

But we want to give gifts. Not only that, but the economy is heavily dependent on consumer spending (although not, technically, 70 percent, because that includes health care expenditures).

In other words, your spending helps pay for my job and likely vice versa. Performance during the holidays can make the difference whether your favorite stores stay open or not.

Still, people can choose responsibly where their spending goes. They can shop at locally owned small businesses, or chains that pay decent wages and offer real benefits to their employees. Get on “the tubes” and do some research.


Comments | More in Retail

November 26, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Retailers’ hopes, in two graphs

As we approach the critical holiday shopping season, retailers can bag some cautious optimism based on the following two charts:



So consumer expenditures continue to rise and after a bumpy spring and summer, consumer confidence is rising again. And, yes, those per-capita numbers include the 1 percent and you.


Comments | More in Retail

July 23, 2012 at 9:55 AM

The Target test in downtown Seattle

The urban Target store opening in downtown Seattle marks an important future direction for the chain. While suburban big boxes and shopping strips were devastated by the Great Recession, many central cores have been doing well. It’s also a vote of confidence in downtown Seattle.

There are risks to the scenario, as economists like to say. Population has grown as a percentage more downtown since 2005 than in Seattle, King County or Washington.’s headquarters, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Russell Investments and the South Lake Union biomedical cluster have all added to the confidence. Still, employment was badly hurt by the closing of Washington Mutual’s headquarters and the destruction of the ecosystem of vendors, law firms, CPAs, etc. that depended on it.

Taxable retail sales downtown plunged during the recession and failed to recover as they did elsewhere in the metro area and state, starting in 2009. Taxable sales in arts, entertainment, sports and accommodations also took a big hit and are losing market share (NBA arena, anyone?). The data are completely not up to date, but it’s clear downtown has challenges.


Comments | More in Downtown and urban issues, Retail

November 25, 2011 at 10:05 AM

Vote: Holiday shopping plans

I’ve been out among the crowd this morning at Westlake Park awaiting the Macy’s parade. An informal survey says many plan to stick around and look, maybe even shop. Black Friday is a constuct of the retail industry but it doesn’t give a good picture of the overall shopping season. And even that can mislead. As NYU economist Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini cautioned today, “Retail sales provide biased measure of consumption spending by households as they are sharply cutting back discretionary service spending.”

So, today’s poll:

My shopping plans this year

Feel free to tell your Black Friday experiences in the comments section. And read on for the best economics stories of the week.


Comments | More in Consumer spending, Retail

May 17, 2011 at 9:45 AM

A ‘self-sustaining’ recovery? Not so fast

So how’s that recovery working out for you? According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, e-commerce retail sales rose in the first quarter to reach a record of $46 billion. That compares with $5 billion in 2000.

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, owner of the former Washington Mutual, the recovery has reached a “self-sustaining” level. That, at least, is what he told shareholders at the annual meeting today.

And yet Wal-Mart, the bellwether of middle America, showed a more mixed picture. Profits rose 3 percent, beating Wall Street expectations, but the retail giant’s troubles continue. U.S. same-store sales, which track stores that have been open a year or more and is a better yardstick of performance, fell 1.1 percent.


Comments | More in Recovery, Retail

May 10, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Claim a (cautious) victory for downtown Seattle retail

I was interested in the interview of leasing agent Maria Royer by the Seattle Times’ Amy Martinez. Royer focuses on the Pike-Pine corridor in downtown Seattle and lately has brought in AllSaints, H&M and Forever 21.

The fact that Seattle even has a star leasing agent successfully working one part of a vibrant downtown is remarkable. The fact that downtown Seattle retail survived and bounced back from the Great Recession is testimony to how special this city is, and what an asset it has in downtown. This is not to be smug — “downtown is never done,” as someone said — but most American cities would kill for the downtown retail Seattle residents take for granted.

Downtown retail started dying in the late 1950s in most American cities as cheap gas, suburbanization and the shopping mall displaced traditional central business districts. Cities that entirely lost their downtown shopping districts have found it incredibly difficult to restore them, even with the downtown renaissance that began in the late 1980s. For example, downtown Dallas has added thousands of new residents and brought some large office tenants back from the suburbs, but it struggles on the retail front aside from the flagship Neiman Marcus store. Seattle is very fortunate that it never reached this tipping point.


Comments | More in Downtown and urban issues, Recovery, Retail

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