Economy
12:11 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

The return of luxury retail

Originally published on Fri April 8, 2011 1:10 pm

Consumers spent more on retail goods in the first quarter than they did during the same time last year. That's despite higher gas prices, bad weather and a late Easter holiday.

Luxury retailers were the winners.

Retail analyst Marshal Cohen says the recession has left the consumer with "frugal fatigue."

"We're tired of being so frugal with what we're spending and at the least expensive place," he says.

A bunch retailers released their first quarter numbers this week.

High end fancy stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom all made money.

But Gap Inc., which owns the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains, was down 10 Percent.

Cohen says people are getting pickier about where they spend their money. He calls it "distinctive conformity."

"The consumer today is very focused on buying product that doesn't make them one of a million but rather one in a million," he says.

Cohen says a customer might buy one pair of fancy jeans that no one else has, and then buy underwear, socks and shirts from a discount retailer.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The U.S. economy continues to show signs of strength. New figures show Americans spent more on retail goods in the first quarter compared to last year. That's despite higher gas prices and bad weather and a late Easter holiday.

NPR's Sonari Glinton has more.

SONARI GLINTON: I'm wearing a new pair of jeans. They're hot. It took me a really long time to find them. I'm not the only one.

Mr. MARSHAL COHEN (Retail Analyst): What the recession did was create the consumer to now be more selective with where they're going to shop.

GLINTON: Marshal Cohen is a retail analyst. He says consumers have suffered from what he calls frugal fatigue.

Mr. COHEN: We're tired of being so frugal that we're only spending at the least expensive place.

GLINTON: A bunch of retailers released their first quarter numbers this week. High end fancy store like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom all made money. But the Gap, which owns The Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic, was down 10 percent. Marshal Cohen says people are getting pickier about where they spend their money.

Mr. COHEN: And I call it distinctive conformity. The consumer today is very focused on buying product that does not make them one of a million but rather one in a million.

GLINTON: Cohen says a customer might buy one pair of fancy jeans that no one else has and then go out and buy underwear, socks, shirts, stuff no one can see from a discount retailer. Come on. Who would do that?

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.