NEW YORK â€” Attention armchair economists: You don't need spreadsheets to get a handle on how this year's holiday shopping season is going. Just keep an eye on sales of push-up bras.
You read that right. Retail analyst John Morris says that if we see brisk sales of the â€œMiraculousâ€ bras at Victoria's Secret it could be a good indicator of two important economic trends.
If women buy these high-priced bras, they're probably willing to buy other things for themselves, too. That would be a shift from the last two holiday seasons when shoppers mostly bought for others.
Strong sales of lingerie would also suggest that shoppers are willing to indulge. That would be a change from last year when they stuck to basics. The bras, launched a year ago and sold with the tag line â€œHello, Bombshell,â€ cost between $49.50 and $250.
â€œThe Bombshell bra has been selling out, and that's not because husbands are buying them for their wives,â€ says Morris, who works at of BMO Capital Markets. â€œIt's the wives buying for themselves.â€
What's on sale?
Everybody loves discounts, and retailers offer plenty of them. The key difference to watch for is this: when discounts shift from planned promotions into desperate acts by retailers trying to move merchandise out the door.
Offers of 25 percent to 30 percent off shouldn't set off any alarms. Discounts of that size have become standard practice. Don't be surprised if you see even larger promotions, like 40 percent to 50 percent off, in certain areas of a store.
If discounts get bigger or seem out of the ordinary, watch out. Two years ago, at the height of the financial meltdown, retailers slashed prices by as much as 90 percent to draw in shoppers who had been unwillingly to buy much.A year ago, necessities trumped luxuries when it came to holiday buying. Shoppers went for basics, like winter coats or even diapers, and even home goods like coffee makers. People made relatively fewer purchases for themselves.
Retailers hope people will return to buying more traditional gifts this holiday season.
â€œThis year, we are seeing that customers have adjusted to the environment and feel that the economy is gradually improving, and are therefore more receptive to the idea of opening up their wallets and spending this season,â€ says Steve Lawrence, who helps decide what products get stocked in JC Penney stores.