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    Walmart Raises Starting Wages for Store Workers

    The retail giant said the minimum wages for those employees would range from $14 to $19 an hour, up from $12 to $18 an hour.Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is significantly raising its starting wages for store workers, as it battles to recruit and retain workers in a tight retail labor market.On Tuesday, the retail giant said in a memo to employees that it was increasing its minimum wages for store workers to a range of $14 to $19 an hour, up from $12 to $18 an hour.In the memo, Walmart’s chief executive of U.S. operations, John Furner, said the increase was meant “to ensure we have attractive pay in the markets we operate.” The move would immediately affect about 340,000 of the company’s 1.3 million frontline hourly workers in stores across the United States.For years, Walmart has been under pressure from unions, policymakers and activists to raise its wages for workers in its stores. The raises announced Tuesday would increase the average wage across Walmart stores to roughly $17.50 an hour from about $17, though the company’s average wage still trails some competitors like Costco.“We want to make sure we attract the best associates,” a Walmart spokesperson, Anne Hatfield, said in an interview.The raises, which will take affect in March, come amid still persistently high inflation, which has been particularly difficult to navigate for low-wage workers whose paychecks are being stretched by the costs of food, fuel and other basic necessities.The move by Walmart is also a curiously optimistic sign regarding the broader economy: One of the nation’s largest companies is taking steps to retain workers, even as other large employers have been announcing layoffs.Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said he was surprised that Walmart had raised wages “so significantly” given the risks of a recession.“It suggests that Walmart doesn’t think the economy will suffer a recession anytime soon, or that if it does, it will be a short-lived and modest downturn,” Mr. Zandi said in an email.The move may also reflect the longer-term challenges that retailers face in retaining workers as baby boomers age out of the work force and the labor pool shrinks, he said.Even though the raises will ease the inflationary strain on Walmart workers, they may inadvertently prolong the problem broadly by boosting wages across other sectors of the economy.“Walmart’s move to hike their minimum wage may also complicate the Fed’s efforts to quell wage pressures and thus inflation,” Mr. Zandi said, “as the decision may impact wage hikes and price increases in other labor-intensive industries such as health care, hospitality and personal services that the Fed is focused on in its fight against inflation.” More

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    Bed Bath & Beyond Warns of Possible Bankruptcy

    The home goods retailer said weak sales and slower foot traffic had forced it to consider options for restructuring.Bed Bath & Beyond, the beleaguered home goods retailer, warned investors on Thursday about rapidly darkening prospects for its future, saying that bankruptcy was a possible option and raising doubts that it could pull off an ambitious turnaround plan it put in place just months ago.The company could make a decision on its next steps — including whether to file for bankruptcy — within weeks, though it is possible the process will take longer, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is confidential.Bed Bath & Beyond, known to many shoppers for its distinctive and seemingly inescapable blue and white coupons, has struggled for years to compete with the likes of Amazon, as more shoppers have gone online for everyday home products.The retailer laid out a plan in August to turn itself around that included 150 store closings, cost cuts and layoffs. But it needs cash to execute those plans, and it is not clear that the crucial holiday shopping season brought in enough for it to continue without help from outside investors.“The company has concluded that there is substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” Bed Bath & Beyond said in a statement.Sue Gove, who became the retailer’s permanent chief executive in October, has been focused on working through a restructuring plan to improve the company’s ailing supply chain and better stock its stores. But its suppliers remain unconvinced, and it said in a regulatory filing that it was at risk of running out of cash in the coming months.“Before Christmas, there was just a glimmer of hope,” said Neil Saunders, managing director at the retail consulting firm GlobalData. “There was a view that, OK, it’s going to be difficult, but maybe they were going to pull through. Things have just got worse.”He added, “They sent out a very clear signal today that they’ve just run out of time.”Bed Bath & Beyond employed about 32,000 workers as of February and said in October that it had closed about half the stores it planned to as part of its restructuring.The company, which now has roughly 900 stores across the country, reported preliminary earnings Thursday, noting lower sales and slower foot traffic compared with the previous year. The company said its sales were about $1.3 billion for the quarter that ended Nov. 26, about a third lower than the year before, when it had more stores. The period included the run-up to Black Friday.The retailer estimated that it would record a loss of $386 million in its latest quarter, much worse than the $276 million loss in the previous year, and said it would need more time than expected to close its books. As of March, Bed Bath & Beyond had roughly $3 billion in debt.The company’s share price closed nearly 30 percent lower on Thursday, giving it a market capitalization of $150 million. At its peak in 2013, the company’s market value was $17 billion..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve em{font-style:italic;}.css-1hvpcve strong{font-weight:bold;}.css-1hvpcve a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.Learn more about our process.In addition to a possible bankruptcy, Bed Bath & Beyond is exploring a number of options to shore up its balance sheet, including selling pieces or all of the company. To help with those efforts, it is working with advisers at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, the consulting firm Alix Partners and the investment bank Lazard, the two people familiar with the matter said. Alix Partners and Lazard declined to comment. A spokesman for Kirkland did not respond to a request for comment.“No determinations have been made as of this time,” Julie Strider, a Bed Bath & Beyond spokeswoman, said in a statement regarding the retailer’s next steps.Its ability to obtain cash through those means will determine whether it needs to file for bankruptcy.Bed Bath & Beyond plans to give an update on Tuesday about its efforts to raise cash.A bankruptcy filing would give Bed Bath & Beyond the chance to shed debt and stores and emerge as a leaner, stronger company, as Neiman Marcus was able to after filing for bankruptcy in 2020. But if performance deteriorates, or its suppliers decide they will not offer their support, Bed Bath & Beyond could be forced to close, like Toys “R” Us.“What we’ve seen many times is that it ends up being a stay of execution,” Michael Baker, a retail analyst at D.A. Davidson, said. “Sometimes that works, but oftentimes you see an announcement of scaling back and having fewer stores and then that’s followed by a complete liquidation.”The attempted turnaround announced in August is being led by Ms. Gove, who at that time was interim C.E.O. after the abrupt departure of the previous chief executive, Mark Tritton, in June.But transforming a company under the burden of debt payments and the glare of suppliers that have lost their faith can be tricky. Investing in supply chains and merchandising requires money — and patience.“Transforming an organization of our size and scale requires time,” Ms. Gove said. “We anticipate that each coming quarter will build on our progress.”Ms. Gove said she had spoken to suppliers directly in an attempt to instill confidence. But they have continued to hold back, resulting in lower levels of in-stock items. Supply chain challenges made more severe by China’s tough Covid strategy have made suppliers particularly picky about the retailers they sell their product to.Bed Bath & Beyond has also been trying to win back the support of investors, who have watched as a series of activist investors, including the meme stock favorite Ryan Cohen, have pushed for changes on its board and for the company to consider selling its Buy Buy Baby brand. Mr. Cohen sold his stake in the company in August, pushing its shares down 40 percent.It has had to grapple with other turmoil. In September, its chief financial officer, Gustavo Arnal, died in what was ruled a suicide. Laura Crossen, the retailer’s chief accounting officer, has since been serving as interim financial chief.Despite Bed Bath & Beyond’s bespoke challenges, its debt worries resonate with the broader retail industry. Inflation, rising interest rates and continued supply chain challenges are probably setting up retailers up for a challenging 2023. Consumers were willing to spend this holiday season, with U.S. retail sales up 7.6 percent from the previous period of Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, according to Mastercard Spending Pulse. But how much longer that trend will last is unclear, if the economy tips into a recession, as a number of economists have forecast.And those who may look to the debt market for reprieve will probably find lenders less eager than they have been in the past two years, when interest rates hovered near zero. Lenders that were previously willing to put money into riskier companies like Bed Bath & Beyond may no longer be willing to take that bet. Supply chain issues worldwide mean companies have less product, not only to sell to customers but to offer lenders as collateral.For a company in as much financial trouble as Bed Bath & Beyond, “it’s very difficult to raise new capital, but it’s also difficult to get your current capital providers to want to play ball for a longer period of time,” said James Gellert, the chief executive of the financial analytic firm RapidRatings International.That makes it “really hard for a company like them to claw out of the position that they’re currently in.” More

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    Retail Sales Fell 0.6% in November, Despite Black Friday

    Inflation changed the way U.S. shoppers approached the holiday season, while lower gas prices and a decline in car sales were also factors.Retail sales fell in November, with spending on even traditionally popular gift categories like clothing and sporting goods declining, a sign that high prices for necessities like food are affecting how people approach the holiday shopping season.U.S. retail sales fell 0.6 percent in November from October, the Department of Commerce said on Thursday. The figure does not account for price changes, and inflation did ease slightly during the month.Spending increased in some areas, including at grocery stores, health and personal care stores and restaurants and bars. But categories like motor vehicles, furniture, consumer electronics, clothing and sporting goods all declined. Gas prices also fell during the month, meaning consumers spent less money filling up their cars.“Overall, the demand patterns — not the most academic term — have been out of whack for the past few years and what we’re seeing is these disruptions coming back in these forms,” said Andrew Forman, who studies consumer behavior at Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business. “There are so many moving factors.”Inflation in November slowed to 7.1 percent through the year, down from 7.7 percent in October. Some analysts pointed out that lower prices affected the retail sales figure.“Less inflation is driving some of that decline from October to November, which wouldn’t be a bad thing,” David Silverman, a senior director at Fitch Ratings, said.In many ways, the report highlights how inflation, even if it has eased, has changed the way consumers are approaching the holiday season. Americans, for example, are whittling down the number of people they are giving gifts to, according to data from KPMG.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Why Retailers Are Trying Extra Hard to Woo Holiday Shoppers

    With an economic slowdown a distinct possibility, stores hope customers’ willingness to open their wallets will last through the season.Amazon held what amounted to an extra Prime Day in October, blanketing its site with deals. Best Buy rolled out Black Friday-level sales last month. And on Friday, Kohl’s entered the first 200 people to walk into each of its stores into a sweepstakes, with prizes including gift cards to Sephora and a family trip to a Legoland resort.With the arrival of the all-important holiday shopping season, retailers are not just competing with one another to attract customers. They are also competing against the clock.For now, Americans are spending, buoyed by pandemic-era savings and a red-hot labor market. But at the same time, prices are climbing at the fastest pace in decades and the Federal Reserve is attempting to rein them in by raising interest rates. That effort to curb demand by making borrowing more expensive is, in turn, making consumers pessimistic about the economy. And a recession is a distinct possibility.Retailers, some of them sitting on a glut of inventory, want to sell as much as they can while consumers are still pulling out their wallets. So they are barraging customers with discounts, hoping to entice them to buy before an economic slowdown causes a change in behavior once more.Whether retailers succeed will have profound implications. Billions of dollars are at stake, and companies will be watching the outcome closely as they make hiring and investment decisions for the new year.“We’re going to spend a lot of time right now focused on executing our plan, getting through the holiday season and then assessing the consumer and the overall retail landscape as we look to 2023,” Brian Cornell, the chief executive of Target, said on a call with analysts this month.More broadly, retail sales during the holiday shopping period could provide clues about the trajectory of the economy in the weeks and months to come.“For the overall economy, I think that it’s going to be very important to look at what the consumer is doing because really that’s going to be your key indicator,” said Lydia Boussour, an economist at EY-Parthenon. “It’s the key engine of growth.”An Express store at the Tanger Outlet in North Charleston, S.C. To entice bargain-hungry shoppers and move unwanted inventory, many companies are promoting “value.”Gavin McIntyre for The New York TimesForecasters generally believe that consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of total economic growth, will remain strong in the fourth quarter, in large part because of household savings. Collectively, Americans by the middle of this year were still sitting on about $1.7 trillion in extra savings accumulated during the pandemic, based on Fed estimates, thanks in part to government aid.But in September, the most recent month for which calculations were available, Americans saved only 3.1 percent of their after-tax income, less than half the share before the pandemic. And poorer Americans are seeing their savings dwindle even faster than wealthier ones.Meanwhile, credit card balances in the third quarter swelled 15 percent compared with a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That was the largest increase in more than two decades, as consumers increasingly rely on credit even as borrowing costs are rising.And a University of Michigan survey this month showed a sharp decline in “consumer sentiment” — a measurement of how people feel about the economy and their financial situation. Even as consumers continue to make purchases, Ms. Boussour said, “they’re feeling depressed about the overall economic situation, and they are going to grow increasingly reluctant to spend.”An employee at Bath & Body Works at Tanger Outlet greeted Black Friday shoppers. Forecasters generally expect that consumer spending will remain strong in the fourth quarter, largely because of household savings.Gavin McIntyre for The New York TimesRetail sales grew 1.3 percent in October, more than expected, as shoppers snapped up earlier-than-usual holiday deals. Some major retailers including Walmart and Home Depot reported strong third-quarter earnings, bolstered by sales for less discretionary goods like groceries or items related to home renovation and do-it-yourself projects. “Households are still spending money because they can,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at the investment bank Jefferies. “I still think there’s a lot of uncertainty about next year because the Fed obviously has raised rates very aggressively this year and we haven’t really felt the effects yet.”But several retailers said they saw demand for their products slow during the month, and when shoppers did buy, they seemed motivated by sales. Some companies have lowered their financial outlook or declined outright to provide forecasts for next year to avoid being caught flat-footed.This was not how the end of this year was supposed to be. For two holiday shopping seasons, retailers strained against pandemic disruptions. Now that the virus restrictions and supply chain snarls that defined those periods have largely abated, retailers had been expecting something of a return to normal.Instead, retailers find themselves trying to outrun a likely economic slowdown.To entice bargain-hungry shoppers and move unwanted inventory, many companies are promoting “value,” offering steep discounts and low prices more so than last year even as labor costs remain high. Many started their holiday blitzes early in the hopes of jump starting sales. Target held Deal Days in October and Old Navy rolled out a “Sorry, Not Sorry” holiday campaign. “Value clearly matters to everyone,” Corie Barry, the chief executive of Best Buy, said on an earnings call last week.J.C. Penney brought back doorbuster sales on Black Friday aimed at getting shoppers back into the store.Justin Hamel for The New York TimesAt J.C. Penney, stores returned to 5 a.m. doorbusters on Black Friday, promoting the “pre-inflation pricing” for items like Instant Pots, hair flat irons and coats.Jeff Gennette, the chief executive of Macy’s, said that a feature on its website that allows users to peruse gifts priced from $15 to $100 seemed to be particularly tempting to shoppers.“If you’ve got an item that’s competing with the competitor, and you’re a higher price, you’ve got to make those adjustments,” he said.Retailers are trying to eliminate any obstacles between a shopper and a potential purchase. Jill Timm, the chief financial officer for Kohl’s, said the chain was providing more personalized offers to shoppers, as well as clearly laying out the discount amounts on certain items to prevent customers from being confused “because they had to do math.”Kohl’s is “really making sure that the offers that we’re putting in are meaningful to the customer to drive their behavior,” Ms. Timm said.Signaling value is part of the overall strategy for Primark, an international clothing retailer, as it looks to grow its presence in the United States.In a recently opened store at a mall in Garden City, N.Y., Primark executives pointed out large signs that advertised $11 hoodies, $4 biker shorts and $20 for a baby-blue bag featuring Stitch from the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch” — and noted that a candle, at 90 cents without any holiday discount, cost less than at Walmart.“It needs to be a very clear moment when you walk in of that perception that there is amazing value throughout the whole store,” said Kevin Tulip, Primark’s U.S. president.Shoppers seemed price conscious on Black Friday and throughout the weekend.Retailers dropped online prices for merchandise like toys, electronics and computers, according to data released on Friday from Adobe Analytics. Discounts for sporting goods and TVs were far steeper this year than last year, according to Adobe data, and clothing prices were slightly lower this year. The average discount for Black Friday deals in the United States was 30 percent, according to Salesforce. In 2019, Salesforce said, the average discount rate for Black Friday was 33 percent.In-store sales on Friday rose 12 percent from last year, and e-commerce sales increased 14 percent compared with 2021, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse data released on Saturday. Those sales included spending not just in retail stores but also at restaurants.Still, not everyone was satisfied. On social media, people complained that Black Friday deals weren’t as sizable as they expected.In San Francisco, Riz Gordon, 24, woke up at 6 a.m. on Friday to shop with her parents and younger sister. Going to the stores that day is “a long family tradition,” she said, and they had already picked out stocking stuffers and smaller presents. But inflation was on their minds.“The prices are very much different than 10 years ago,” Ms. Gordon said.On Sunday, at a Target in Springfield, Ill., D.J. Baggerly, 69, made a quick trip for one final Christmas gift: a white knitted throw blanket. She had spent the weekend mostly shopping online, working through her grandchildren’s wish list.Ms. Baggerly lives on a fixed income, and the higher prices for gas and groceries, she said, have been “ridiculous.” Asked if she planned to cut back on spending in the coming weeks, she said, “Oh yeah. I’m done.”Ben Casselman More

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    Black Friday Shoppers Worry About Economy as Retailers Push Sales

    Black Friday deals returned, drawing shoppers back into stores, but inflation worries left many companies unsure what the holiday shopping season would look like.After two years of pandemic improvisation and in-store restrictions, this year’s Black Friday felt like a return to normalcy.Shoppers who ventured out on Friday, and even those who didn’t, saw a deluge of deals that had been missing the past couple of years. Many retailers pushed lower prices both in stores and online in response to Americans having recently shown they were more than willing to wait for a discount before making a purchase.“I think we’re going back to what we had before the pandemic with what we’re offering on Black Friday,” said Stephen Lebovitz, the chief executive officer of CBL Properties, which owns about 95 properties, including shopping centers and malls across the United States. “There are changes, but it’s going to feel a lot more like 2019 Black Friday than anything in the interim years.”Still, near-record inflation and dwindling savings kept some shoppers home and left retailers unsure what the season would ultimately bring.Many well-off consumers remain stable financially and appear ready to spend, but others face far more economic uncertainty. That isn’t expected to change anytime soon. Analysts, economists and retail executives are monitoring a potential economic slowdown in the first few months of 2023 that could worsen consumers’ wariness.That makes the holiday season — always the most important time for retailers — even more crucial this year.As the day began at Macy’s Herald Square, the department store’s flagship location in Manhattan, there was a steady flow of customers, and store employees clapped as people entered. Some said they were excited to shop but had concerns over prices.Shoppers who entered the flagship Macy’s location in Manhattan were greeted with applause from store employees.Mathias Wasik for The New York TimesTammy Freeman, 59, from New York, stood at the front of the line near the store’s main entrance, ready for her annual Black Friday excursion. She said that she was eager to buy various items, including a case for her daughter’s laptop, but noted that inflation was changing her general approach to spending.“I have to budget more,” she said. “I have to catch the sales more.”Eighty percent of holiday shoppers are likely to make a purchase from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, according to a survey from Bankrate. People shopping online pulled out their wallets on Thanksgiving Day as well, with sales up 2.9 percent compared with a year earlier, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks online sales. Adobe estimated that online spending for the holiday season would increase 2.5 percent from last year. It said it had calculated that online prices were down 0.7 percent in October compared with last year, largely because of early holiday deals, though they rose 0.3 percent from September.On Friday, bargain-hunting shoppers definitely seemed to have the power. Stores posted signs advertising 50 to 60 percent off items. At a Target in Springfield, Ill., shoppers walked around with 65-inch televisions in shopping carts, and some wore matching T-shirts that said “Gather, gobble and shop.”In San Francisco’s Union Square, it was relatively quiet. By 7 a.m., when the line outside Macy’s had dissipated, it felt “more or less like a normal day,” said Clifford Cheng, a retail associate at the store.At a nearby Neiman Marcus, only about a dozen shoppers waited outside ahead of the store’s 9 a.m. opening. Natali Carrasco, 20, and Batechaa Steele, 20, were first-time Black Friday shoppers at the luxury department store.“We always come and shop here, but we always buy full price, so we wanted to see the sales,” Ms. Carrasco said.Shoppers have already cut back on some discretionary purchases, leaving many retailers with excess inventory.Nic Antaya for The New York TimesEven before the start of the season, some shoppers were already cutting back on discretionary purchases, leaving retailers with an unusually high level of inventory. They want to unload as much of that as possible before the start of the new year. “The more sales merchandise that they move through now the better,” said Kristen Gall, president of the online platform Rakuten, which offers cash-back deals. “Because if you get caught holding a lot of inventory in January and February and consumers pull back because things feel significantly more recessionary, that’s where the worry comes in for retailers.”Despite the economic unease shoppers have expressed, retailers said they were optimistic.“Even in really tough years Black Friday is a very strong day for us,” Jeff Gennette, Macy’s chief executive, said in an interview.And there were promising signs. Forty percent of consumers said they planned to shop in malls this holiday season, higher than the 35 percent of consumers who did during the 2019 Christmas season, before pandemic lockdowns, according to a survey from the consultancy KPMG. Last year, the number of shoppers who said they planned to venture inside a mall was 31 percent.Americans were also still purchasing gifts online. Adobe said online sales for Black Friday were expected to total $9 billion, up 1 percent year-over-year..Retailers took different approaches to entice shoppers to spend. Macy’s did not bring back the opening doorbuster deals — which went away during the pandemic amid social distancing guidelines — and instead offered sales throughout the day. It also continued the pandemic-era tradition of having Santa take photos with children while seated behind a desk, a sign that Covid concerns remain.J.C. Penney leaned back into doorbusters for the first time since 2019 because it said it wanted to motivate discount-focused shoppers to get out to stores. For its 5 a.m. doorbusters, the department store chain deliberately kept “pre-inflation pricing” on key items like Instant Pots, bath towels and boots. Signs in stores trumpeted 65 percent off discounts. Shoppers lined up outside the J.C. Penney in El Paso, Texas, before it opened at 5 a.m, on Friday.Justin Hamel for The New York Times“We think we’ll have a big volume of customers at the store, and to bring them in we know that value is very important to the consumer right now,” said Marc Rosen, J.C. Penney’s chief executive.On its website, the mall owner CBL highlighted the discounts that stores like H&M and the children’s apparel retailer Carter’s were offering. Other retailers employed a similar strategy in the days leading up to Black Friday. J. Crew on Monday advertised 50 percent off purchases. On Gap’s website, a large black banner scrolled atop the page saying “HPY BLK FRI” and highlighting 50 percent off deals with an additional 10 percent markdown.There are risks for retailers, however, in relying more heavily on deals. The practice erodes profit margins that buoyed them during the pandemic, when many Americans spent plenty on all sorts of goods and retailers did not feel the need to entice them with too many deals. There are also worries that shoppers will become so accustomed to sales that they will only buy when promised a lower price.“Consumers understanding that they can wait out discounts, coupled with retailers’ drive to move goods, likely means that this Black Friday will be more important than Black Friday has been in a long time,” Simeon Siegel, a managing director at BMO Capital Markets, said. “Whether that’s good for the brands, whether that’s good for the consumer — that’s a separate conversation.”Retailers are also competing more with entertainment options, like concerts and dining out at restaurants, than they have in the past couple of years. Consumers are expected to allocate a larger share of their holiday spending on experiences this year compared with last. The average amount that middle-income Americans, who make between $50,000 to $99,000 annually, spend on experiences is expected to increase 15 percent this year, according to a survey released in October from Deloitte.Of course, not every retailer places so much importance on Black Friday.The outdoor equipment retailer REI has remained closed on the day since 2015. This year, the company said it had decided to permanently give its workers a paid day off on Black Friday, encouraging them to spend time outside instead.But that was the exception. Even while the total sales for Black Friday were still being tallied, many retailers were already looking to further entice shoppers by rolling out advertisements for more discounts on Monday.“We believe that the consumer is quite aware of the fact that there’s plenty of inventory out there,” Richard Hayne, the chief executive of Urban Outfitters, said on a call with analysts this month. “And what they’re doing is waiting for big promotional events that normally occur on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in order to make their purchases.”Retailers may need to offer more deals, he said, but “I don’t believe it will be a total blood bath.”Isabella Simonetti More

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    A Holiday Season Divided by Inflation and Economic Struggles

    Even if policymakers achieve a gentle economic slowdown, it won’t be smooth for everyone.Langham Hotel in Boston has plush suites and conference rooms. Across town, in Dorchester, people line up for Thanksgiving turkeys at Catholic Charities.November has been busier than expected at the Langham Hotel in Boston as luxury travelers book rooms in plush suites and hold meetings in gilded conference rooms. The $135-per-adult Thanksgiving brunch at its in-house restaurant sold out weeks ago.Across town, in Dorchester, demand has been booming for a different kind of food service. Catholic Charities is seeing so many families at its free pantry that Beth Chambers, vice president of basic needs at Catholic Charities Boston, has had to close early some days and tell patrons to come back first thing in the morning. On the frigid Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, patrons waiting for free turkeys began to line the street at 4:30 a.m. — more than four hours before the pantry opened.The contrast illustrates a divide that is rippling through America’s topsy-turvy economy nearly three years into the pandemic. Many well-off consumers are still flush with savings and faring well financially, bolstering luxury brands and keeping some high-end retailers and travel companies optimistic about the holiday season. At the same time, America’s poor are running low on cash buffers, struggling to keep up with rising prices and facing climbing borrowing costs if they use credit cards or loans to make ends meet.The situation underlines a grim reality of the pandemic era. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to make borrowing more expensive and temper demand, hoping to cool the economy and bring the fastest inflation in decades back under control. Central bankers are trying to manage that without a recession that leaves families out of work. But the adjustment period is already a painful one for many Americans — evidence that even if the central bank can pull off a so-called “soft landing,” it won’t feel benign to everyone.“A lot of these households are moving toward the greater fragility that was the norm before the pandemic,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.Many working-class households fared well in 2020 and 2021. Though they lost jobs rapidly at the outset of the pandemic, hiring rebounded swiftly, wage growth has been strong, and repeated government relief checks helped families amass savings.But after 18 months of rapid price inflation — some of which was driven by stimulus-fueled demand — the poor are depleting those cushions. American families were still sitting on about $1.7 trillion in excess savings — extra savings accumulated during the pandemic — by the middle of this year, based on Fed estimates, but about $1.35 trillion of it was held by the top half of earners and just $350 billion in the bottom half.At the same time, prices climbed 7.7 percent in the year through October, far faster than the roughly 2 percent pace that was normal before the pandemic. As savings have run down and necessities like car repair, food and housing become sharply more expensive, many people in lower-income neighborhoods have begun turning to credit cards to sustain their spending. Balances for that group are now above 2019 levels, New York Fed research shows. Some are struggling to keep up at all.“With the cost of food, the explosive cost of eggs, people are having to come to us more,” said Ms. Chambers of Catholic Charities, explaining that other rising prices, including rent, are intensifying the struggle. The location planned to give out 1,000 turkeys and 600 gift cards for turkeys, at its holiday distribution, along with bags of canned creamed corn, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving fare.Tina Obadiaru, 42, was among those who lined up to get a turkey on Saturday. A mother of seven, she works full time caring for residents at a group home, but it isn’t enough to make ends meet for her and her family, especially after her Dorchester rent jumped last month to $2,500 from $2,000.“It is going to be really difficult,” she said.The disproportionate burden inflation places on the poor is one reason Fed officials are scrambling to quickly bring price increases back under control. Central bankers have lifted interest rates from near zero earlier this year to nearly 4 percent, and have signaled that there are more to come.But the process of lowering inflation is also likely to hurt for lower-income people. Fed policies work partly by making it expensive to borrow to sustain consumption, which causes demand to decline and eventually forces sellers to charge less. Rate increases also slow down the labor market, cooling wage growth and possibly even costing jobs.Catholic Charities has seen a surge in demand for food.November has been busier than expected at the Langham Hotel.That means that the solid labor market that has buoyed the working class through this challenging time — one that has particularly pushed up wages in lower-paying jobs, including leisure and hospitality, and transportation — could soon crack. In fact, Fed officials are watching for a slowdown in spending and pay gains as a sign that their policies are working.“While higher interest rates, slower growth and softer labor market conditions will bring down inflation, they will also bring some pain to households and businesses,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at a key Fed conference in August. “These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation.”Central bankers believe that a measure of pain today is better than what would happen if inflation were allowed to continue unchecked. If people and businesses begin to expect rapid price increases and act accordingly — asking for big raises, instituting frequent and large price increases — inflation could become entrenched in the economy. It would then take a more punishing policy response to bring it to heel, one that could push unemployment even higher.But evidence accumulating across the economy underscores that the slowdown the Fed has been engineering, however necessary, is likely to feel different across different income groups.Consumer spending overall has so far been resilient to the Fed’s rate moves. Retail sales data moderated notably early in the year, but have recently picked back up. Personal consumption expenditures aren’t expanding at a breakneck pace, but they continue to grow.Yet underneath those aggregate numbers, a nascent shift appears to be underway — one that highlights the growing divide in economic comfort between the rich and the poor. Credit card data from Bank of America suggest that high- and middle-income households have replaced lower-income households in driving consumption growth in recent months. Poorer shoppers contributed one-fifth of the growth in discretionary spending in October, compared with around two-fifths a year earlier.“This is likely due to lower-income groups being the most negatively impacted by surging prices — they have also seen the biggest drawdown of bank savings,” economists at the Bank of America Institute wrote in a Nov. 10 note.Even if the poor feel the squeeze of elevated prices and higher interest rates and pull back, the economists noted that continued economic health among richer consumers could keep demand strong in areas where wealthier people tend to spend their money, including services like travel and hotels.At the Langham, a newly renovated hotel in a century-old building that originally served as the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, there is little to suggest an impending slowdown in spending. In “The Fed,” the hotel bar named in a nod to the building’s heritage, bartenders are busy every weeknight slinging cocktails with names like “Trust Fund Baby” and “Apple Butter Me Up” (both $16). When guests come back from shopping on nearby Newbury Street, the hotel’s managing director, Michele Grosso, said, their arms are full of bags. He sees the fact that the Thanksgiving brunch sold out so fast as emblematic of continued demand.“If people were pulling back, we’d still be promoting,” he said of the three-course, family-style meal. “Instead, we’ve got a waiting list.”The consumption divide playing out in Boston is also clear at a national level, echoing through corporate earnings calls. American Express added customers for platinum and gold cards at a record clip in the United States last quarter, for instance, as it reported “great demand” for premium, fee-based products.The $135-per-adult Thanksgiving Brunch at the Langham Hotel sold out weeks ago.Food to be distributed at Catholic Charities, which has been giving out Turkeys, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving fare.“As we sit here today, we see no changes in the spending behaviors of our customers,” Stephen J. Squeri, the company’s chief executive, told investors during an earnings call last month.Companies that serve more low-income consumers, however, are reporting a marked pullback.“Many consumers this year have relied on borrowing or dipping into their savings to manage their weekly budgets,” Brian Cornell, the chief executive of Target, said in an earnings call on Nov. 16. “But for many consumers, those options are starting to run out. As a result, our guests are exhibiting increasing price sensitivity, becoming more focused on and responsive to promotions and more hesitant to purchase at full price.”The split makes it hard to guess what will happen next with spending and inflation. Some economists think the return of price sensitivity among lower-income consumers will be enough to help overall costs moderate, paving the way for a notable slowdown in 2023.“You get more promotional activity, and companies starting to compete for market share,” said Julia Coronado, founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives.But others warn that, even if the very poor are struggling, it may not be sufficient to bring spending and prices down meaningfully.Many families paid off their credit card balances during the pandemic, and that is now reversing, despite high credit card rates. The borrowing could help some households sustain their consumption for a while, especially paired with strong employment gains and recently fallen gas prices, said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro.As the world waits to see whether the Fed can slow down the economy enough to control inflation without forcing the country into an outright recession, those coming to Catholic Charities in Boston illustrate why the stakes are so high. Though many have jobs, they have been buffeted by months of rapid price increases and now face an uncertain future.“Before the pandemic, we thought in cases,” Ms. Chambers said, referencing how much food is needed to meet local need. “Now we think only in pallets.” More

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    Billions of Dollars at Stake in a Puzzling Holiday Shopping Season

    It promises to be unpredictable, with retailers and consumers still figuring out how much will be spent and on what kinds of goods.No one quite knows what to make of this year’s holiday shopping season. But billions of dollars are riding on it.After two pandemic holiday seasons messed with doorbusters, party plans and supply chains, retailers were hoping that this year would be a return to sanity. But just as it started to appear that families and stores could pull out their old playbooks, along came near-record inflation and the war in Ukraine, only increasing general unease about the state of the world.Some things are looking up. The pandemic has receded, supply chains generally stabilized, and the labor market is strong.But in March, the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates to slow down inflation, just as retail executives were making plans for which toys, wreaths and fuzzy socks shoppers would buy come winter. To try to ensure a robust shopping season, retailers leaned in early and often. Christmas trees showed up at Costco in August. Amazon threw what amounted to a second Prime Day in October. And it seems every day has brought ads for Black Friday deals, like the ones that Target offered throughout October.Still, shoppers seem confused. Should they buy now or later? Purchase for a lot of people or put a priority on a few? Give items or shared experiences? Trust online deliveries or go with local shops?“The truth is, we don’t know whether consumers will spend more or less on gift giving or whether they’ll do more shopping online or in the mall,” Etsy’s chief executive, Josh Silverman, told investors recently.That has left companies making predictions for the all-important retail season that amount to a shrug.“We’re not quite sure how strong holiday spending will be versus last year,” Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s finance chief, told investors in October, “and we’re ready for a variety of outcomes.”Or, as Peter Boneparth, the chair of Kohl’s board, told analysts this month, “I think everybody believes that Christmas will come, but I don’t think anybody out there knows for sure exactly what’s going to happen.”Feeling inflation’s squeezeMathias Wasik for The New York TimesInflation is on everyone’s mind. Higher prices on all sorts of items have made people rethink what they’re buying and whom they’re buying for. While inflation is moderating slightly, it’s at the highest levels since Indiana Jones was bullwhipping raiders of the Lost Ark at the mall cineplex.More on Big TechMicrosoft: The company’s $69 billion deal for Activision Blizzard, which rests on winning the approval by 16 governments, has become a test for whether tech giants can buy companies amid a backlash.Apple: Apple’s largest iPhone factory, in the city of Zhengzhou, China, is dealing with a shortage of workers. Now, that plant is getting help from an unlikely source: the Chinese government.Amazon: The company appears set to lay off approximately 10,000 people in corporate and technology jobs, in what would be the largest cuts in the company’s history.Meta: The parent of Facebook said it was laying off more than 11,000 people, or about 13 percent of its work forceThe National Retail Federation predicts that holiday sales in November and December will increase 6 to 7 percent from last year, but that’s below the rate of inflation.“Folks are really looking for deals this year,” said Melissa Burdick, who spent a decade at Amazon and founded Pacvue, which helps big brands sell online. “They’re shifting what they’re buying to favor lower-priced brands and more necessary items.” She summed up the sentiment as: “I used to want Bose headphones. Now I will buy chips on sale on Amazon.”Cristian Tinoco, 19, who works 45 hours a week at a gym in Seattle and attends community college, said his family would focus on spending Christmas together after a rocky year.“Gas has especially gone up. I probably spend about $400 a paycheck on gas because I commute 35 minutes each way, each day. I have three siblings, so my parents have four kids at home and spend more than $1,000 a month on groceries. I help sometimes pay for food with my paycheck.“My student loan application got messed up, so I’ve been paying for college out of pocket. I don’t want to drop out. I may finally be able to start saving. I want to buy a truck — it just feels like me.”The experience is the thingPeople spent two pandemic years buying stuff. With stimulus checks, rising wages and nowhere to go, last year’s holiday season generated the biggest annual growth in retail spending on record — 14.1 percent.This year, Covid-19 travel restrictions have eased, and masking mandates are virtually gone. Retailers are bracing to lose out on spending as more people go on trips, attend concerts and eat out.The Transportation Security Administration said screenings were up 33 percent from last year, and concert bookings are up 51 percent, according to Eventbrite.“They were reminded that life is very short, and coming out of this pandemic they want to experience life again,” Mike Daher, an executive at the consultancy Deloitte, said.Mary Anna Ball, 25, a ballerina and research analyst in West Virginia, usually starts squirreling away Christmas gifts in July but this year wants to give gifts that will help her family experience the world.“I love sweaters and little kitschy things like that, but I know not everyone is that way, and you’ll kind of remember the experience more than when you’re going through your clothes of, ‘How did I get this sweater?’ If you give an experience, that’s something you’ll remember a bit longer, or maybe it’ll introduce you to a new hobby or something like that.“I have two younger brothers. Some people get siblings tattoos. I refuse to do that. But they’ve said it would be fun to go skydiving one day. I thought, I can get them a voucher and, whenever they can, they can just go down and skydive or something.”Christmas came early in many storesMathias Wasik for The New York TimesGetting what you want this year shouldn’t be a big issue. Remembering last year, when popular items were stuck at ports or somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, brands ramped up production, and retailers ordered more products. They did this earlier than usual to make sure items arrived on time, but the supply chain improved. When orders arrived earlier than expected, retailers piled items in warehouses that in some cases were already stuffed with merchandise ordered in 2021.That, combined with uncertain consumer demand, left retailers with record-high inventories, according to data from the Census Bureau.That’s leading to more deals and a hodgepodge of goods on store floors, no matter the season. In other words, Christmas came early to stores.Mike Campese, a guitarist and instructor in Las Vegas, knew this year was going to be strange when he saw holiday merchandise unusually early.“The other day, I was in Costco, and as soon as you walk in, the very first aisle is the Christmas stuff. It is still September! Oh, my God.“It is the earliest I have seen it. Usually the day after Halloween it’s like the malls are playing Christmas tunes and the decorations are up. Some people go shopping in September. I can’t do that. I am not in the spirit yet.”Waiting on deals, even for everyday itemsAmazon tried its best to hype an early holiday sale at the start of October. Some of the top-selling products in the United States — like Crest Whitestrips and protein powder — weren’t exactly typical presents.“No one is buying gifts for Christmas,” said Jason Murray, an Amazon veteran whose company, Shipium, advises online retailers. “They are buying for themselves.”It doesn’t matter much to retailers, who used the early holiday sales to try to offload products before most shoppers had even picked out their Halloween costumes. But it signaled that shoppers are motivated by deals, no matter what they’re for. After two years of limited discounts, shoppers are showing they are willing to hold out for a bargain.Brands are getting on board. “We made too many,” the bike maker Specialized said on its website, telling customers that they can “save BIG.”Rakuten, an online platform that offers deals and shopper rewards, said retailer participation in Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions was the “biggest in the last three years.”Natalie Rodriguez, 47, who works for the Indiana Department of Revenue, said the products on sale weren’t what she wanted to give for Christmas.“I am really cognizant of those deals that are coming up right now. I think it is a grab to see who gets my money first. Am I taking advantage of it because I perceive it was a deal?“On the Amazon sale, I had 150 things in my cart and saved for later, but I didn’t see anything that is comparable to what I would think is a Black Friday deal. When I was a kid, Black Friday was superlow-cost, like 80 or 90 percent off. Most of what I saw was 30 and 40 percent on some items. It’s like, ‘Nah, I will just pass,’ especially if it is not an essential item. Crest Whitestrips were a great deal, but I don’t need them right now.“All I got was a $50 gift card with a $10 bonus on it.”On-time arrival, finallyFor years, largely spurred on by Amazon, consumers got used to fast shipping — often in two days or less. The pandemic upended that. Driver and inventory shortages meant people had to plan ahead.This year, industry experts do not expect another Shipageddon. There are more than enough delivery and warehouse workers to meet demand. Shippers should be able to deliver 110 million packages a day, almost 20 million more than shoppers are expected to order, according to ShipMatrix, a consultancy.“Because of experiences of what has gone on with global supply chains in the last few years, folks are stretching the holiday season over a longer period,” said Jamil Ghani, the vice president of Amazon Prime.Miranda Rosas, 21, a student at the University of California, Merced, was nervous about late-arriving Christmas gifts, so she started ordering last month.“Shipping last year was so awful, and a lot of items that I ordered a little bit last minute came in time, thankfully, but it took a long time. I tried to start a little sooner.“I really thought that it was going to take a couple weeks or a whole week and then it would ship and then it would take another two weeks to come. Now, a lot of my stuff it’s been like, ‘Oh! Already?’”Luxury is its own thingMathias Wasik for The New York TimesThe vibes are good for people with money to spare.More than three-quarters of luxury shoppers say they plan to spend the same as or more than last year, according to a survey from Saks. Twice as many as last year said they planned on dressing up in formal attire for the holidays, and 40 percent wanted to “self-gift” shoes. Luxury goods companies are giving signals that they’re confident about the U.S. market. This month, Estee Lauder agreed to buy Tom Ford for $2.8 billion, widening its reach into fashion apparel.“Customers are going back to a social life,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, chief executive at Neiman Marcus, whose top customers spend an average of $25,000 a year with the brand. “This is one of the first holidays that they feel more comfortable sharing it with their loved ones. I think that there’s a lot of good things coming with the holiday.”Sabah Essa, 49, a style adviser at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta, has been working with her clients, who include doctors, housewives, reality-TV stars and young professionals, to build their holiday wish lists.“Mostly everyone wants a big expensive piece compared to last year. For example, someone maybe got a Prada bag last Christmas, and now they’re upgrading it to high-end jewelry.“They want to find an outfit for going out to dinner or a party or birthday or to grab a gift for another friend. Everybody is just really happy to go out, and they can go without a mask.“A lot of them are also traveling. They want their suitcase to be all new stuff.“One client wants to give his wife 30 different gifts for her turning 30. He wants to have that plus Christmas because her birthday falls right around Christmas. The gifts are all different ranges, from stocking stuffers to high-end jewelry to Chanel bags to shoes — a lot of shoes, from sneakers to heels to boots.“It helps that we offer our clients a glass of champagne when they come in to make it easy for them to shop. Or if they want a cup of tea or coffee. It’s more fun than the years in the past now.”Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity. More