Upper-crust shoppers, who have spent lavishly in recent quarters on everything and anything luxury — from Louis Vuitton handbags to Burberry trench coats — may be finally coming to the end of the budgets.
With a credit crisis in Europe and the US stock market gyrating after the nation’s debt downgrade, swanky retailers are bracing for the danger that their well-heeled clientele could clamp down on spending this fall.
To soothe such worries, Saks Inc., parent of one of the larger luxury retailers, Saks Fifth Avenue, yesterday took the rare step of disclosing this month’s business trends as it reported quarterly results, noting that demand in recent weeks for pricey shoes and designer dresses has met expectations.
Nevertheless, “severe market corrections or prolonged downturns have historically negatively affected us,” Saks CEO Steve Sadove warned investors.
The comments echoed an uncertain outlook from New York luxury group Ralph Lauren, whose president Roger Farah said last week he was “concerned about macroeconomic uncertainty” as the holidays approach.
Wealthy shoppers lately have been building momentum, fueling an 11.6 percent gain last month in US luxury sales excluding jewelry, according to an estimate by MasterCard SpendingPulse. That was up from luxury gains of 4.7 percent and 8.2 percent in May and June, respectively, handily outpacing the rest of the retail sector.
As of this week, well-heeled consumers still haven’t been rattled by the stock market, and the luxury industry’s expectation for an 8- to 10-percent holiday increase appears to be on track, adds Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice at A.T. Kearney.
“They may be taking pause, but I’m not sure people in the affluent segment have gotten their minds around the idea that we’re headed for a double-dip recession,” Mityas said.
He noted, however, that “if we truly experience a double-dip recession, then the luxury sector will be the first to feel the pain — when retail goes down luxury goes down even worse.”
Saks thrilled shoppers — and angered many fashion brands — when it slashed its prices as much as 70 percent after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
“The wound is still fresh from 2008,” said Andrew Sacks of AgencySacks, a research firm focused on luxury consumers. “It’s an easy thing for people to remember, and it’s not that long since we started to reverse course — I can’t imagine people not being concerned.”
Saks’ jittery outlook helped drive its shares down 4.6 percent yesterday, much steeper than the 0.7 percent drop in the Dow Jones industrial average.
In addition, Tiffany fell 3.7 percent, Coach dropped 4.5 percent and Ralph Lauren Corp. was down 2.2 percent.