Consumer Nation

Too Soon for Retailers To Declare Victory: Taubman

Retail trends are improving, but "no one is declaring victory," said Bill Taubman, chief operating officer of Taubman Centers.

Woman selecting clothes from rail in shop
Lucas Lenci Photo | Riser | Getty Images

"Well, clearly traffic is up, but more importantly spending is up," Taubman said, in an interview with CNBC.

"We have good fashion out there," he said. "People are very interested in what's out there. You see the sort of middle-range stores are starting to do better. Clearly, there is less inventory, they are not discounting the way they were. The stores look fresh, and people are buying."

Still, Taubman said that sales are not back to where they were in 2007, but he thinks there has been "a substantial recovery" since the depths of mid-2009.

Sales at the mall operator's 26 locations were off about 10 percent during the first nine months of last year, Taubman said. In the fourth quarter, they rose about 3.8 percent. Since then, the trend has been fairly "consistent," he said.

Taubman suspects that consumers are "cautiously optimistic."

A Fashionably Late Recovery

Malls operated by Taubman Centers tend to cater to higher income consumers, and include upscale malls such as The Mall at Short Hills, a shopping center in Short Hills, New Jersey, that includes retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Tiffany .

High-income consumers have fared better as the economy has recovered. This income group has substantially lower levels of unemployment than the general population, and has benefited from rising stock portfolios, which has helped household net worth rise in recent quarters.

Retailers are attempting to teach these consumers some new lessons, according to Taubman.

With tight inventories, retailers haven't had to cut prices to ring up sales. That strategy is teaching high-income consumers that if they really want merchandise, they need to grab it when they see it, and not wait for big sales.

Still, the improvement is not enough to encourage retailers to aggressively expand the number of locations they operate or to hire large numbers of new employees.

Those things will evolve slowly, according to Taubman.

"There's a cloud out there," he said. "There isn't this sense of full confidence."

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