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Ups and Downs

NEW YORK - Last year, it was all about cotton - not just the pricing impact on the overall baskets but also the diminishing presence of cotton in favor of all poly products or blends.
     This year, cotton came roaring back. All-cotton constructions in bedding rose to 42% this year, compared to 35% last year. Poly is still going strong, however. All-poly bedding accounted for 42% of this year's survey, a slight dip from 44% last year. Blends fell from 21% of bedding last year to 16% this year.
     The survey - which examined the highest and lowest priced items at key retailers in New Jersey, Long Island and Miami during the first two weeks of February - is not necessarily representative of a retailer's overall pricing grid, but it does assess the pricing consumers found in those stores in those markets early in the month.
     The survey does not include merchandise that has been marked down or put on clearance. The highs and the lows represent full pricing only.
     The in flux of all that synthetic fiber last year actually resulted in lower 2012 opening price point baskets for eight out of 10 retailers in the survey. This year, overall opening price points climbed dramatically.
     Six out of 10 retailers in HTT's annual Market Basket Survey rang in with higher opening price point baskets - every single one of them by double-digits. The most modest increase took place at Kohls, where the opening price point basket rose 10.3%. The highest was Family Dollar, up 42.6%. Item prices in the value retailer's opening basket were virtually unchanged - except for queen bed in a bag, where the retailer hiked the non-sale price from $30 last year to $48 as seen on-shelf this month.
     Among retailers that lowered their opening price point baskets, the most dramatic shift was seen at Kmart (down 17.0%). Kmart dropped its opening price point 14% on queen bed in a bag, slashed the tag on a queen quilt 50% and pared back pricing on nearly every item in the bath segment tracked by the survey.
     Another difference? Comparisons of items not available in 2013 vs. 2012. Last year, Kmart was out of stock during HTT's visit on shams and dust ruffles, but in-stock this year, adding $31.98 in merchandise to the opening price point basket. However, it was out of stock this month on bath sheets and non-sale throws, items that totaled $34.98 in last year's basket.
     Others who lowered their opening price point baskets included Macy's (down 12.0%), Target (down 8.8%) and Walmart (down 1.8%).
     While retailers were mostly nudging prices up on the opening end this year, the majority (six out of 10) lowered them in the top price point basket. But three that boosted prices did so dramatically.
     As was the case with the opening price point baskets, Family Dollar had the biggest price jump in top price point baskets this year, up 44.2% - this despite the fact all bedding this year was 100% polyester, just as it was in 2012.
     Because there was only one price point available in queen bed in a bag, the price on that item jumped 60% in this basket as well. And the biggest price increases took place in bath.
     Bed Bath & Beyond's upper price point basket jumped 27.6% this year. The big changes: queen bed in a bag, up from $99.99 last year to $249.99, more than double; queen blanket, up from $89.99 last year to $199.99; throw up $30 over last year's price; dust ruffle up 50%; and queen quilt up 27%.
     By contrast, BBB's top-of-the-line pricing in the bath basket this year fell 11%, primarily because the retailer knocked down the price on its most expensive bath rug from $99.99 to $49.99.
     Big Lots was the other retailer with heftier prices in the top price basket this year, up 22.3%. In bedding, that was because Big Lots had no queen quilt in stock at the time of HTT's 2012 visit. This year, one was available, adding $39.99 to the ticket. There was also no bath sheet to price last year; this year the basket added this time at $10.
     There were only three retailers in this year's survey that lowered pricing on both their opening and top-tier baskets: Macy's, Target and Walmart.
     Macy's brought its opening price point basket down 12%. In the bedding department it whacked pricing on shams ($50 this year vs. $120 last year), dust ruffle ($85 vs. $107), and queen blanket ($10 less this year).
     In bath, even though Macy's raised the pricing on its least expensive shower curtain and bath rug, it dropped pricing on the bath sheet, soap dish, lotion pump and tissue box.
     In its top price point basket, Macy's actually raised pricing on many items, but knocking $60 off the tag for its most expensive queen bed in a bag lowered the overall top price point basket by 1.1%.
     Target's opening price point bedding tally was virtually the same as 2012, but it took a scalpel to bath items, particularly in towels. In addition, there was no tissue box available this year, eliminating $14.99 from the overall ticket for an opening price point basket that came in 8.8% lower than last year.
     The story was similar in Target's top price point basket, where the total bedding price crept up slightly only to be offset by cuts to the top-line shower curtain and bath rug (and the absence of a tissue box).
     Walmart's cuts were weighted more heavily on the top price point basket (down 7.6%) compared to the opening price point collection (down 1.8%).
     Its most dramatic price decreases in top tier merchandise took place in queen bed in a bag (nearly $55 cheaper) and queen blanket ($20 less), with small trims on pricing for some bedding and bath items.

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