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NEW YORK -- Retail executives have more cash, are adding employees and enjoying stronger revenue, but they remain quite guarded longer term, not seeing a complete economic recovery until 2014 or later, according to the 2012 Retail Outlook Survey by KPMG LLP, the audit, tax, and advisory firm based here.
In KPMG's 2012 Retail Outlook Survey, 77 percent of retail executives indicate that their companies have significant cash on the balance sheet -- up from 72 percent in KPMG's 2011 survey -- and 56 percent say their companies' cash positions have increased from last year. Furthermore, 64 percent say revenues are up from prior year (47 percent in 2011), and 52 percent say they have increased the number of U.S. employees. Interestingly, 22 percent indicate that their company's headcount has returned to pre-recession levels -- compared with just 18 percent in 2011.
"The retail sector has experienced some positive momentum in the past year, but executive leaders aren't about to throw caution to the wind," said Mark Larson, KPMG global retail leader. "In this year's survey, executives have pushed back their estimated timeline for economic recovery to 2014 or later, with concerns that decreased consumer confidence and continued high national unemployment are hindering a full retail recovery."
In fact, when asked about their expectations for the U.S. economy a year from now, 65 percent anticipate improvement, up from 59 percent in the 2011 survey. Additionally, 61 percent of the executives don't expect substantial economic recovery until 2014-2015 or later -- as opposed to 78 percent who, in the 2011 KPMG survey, predicted the recovery would be complete by the end of 2013. While over 50 percent of the executives plan to add headcount in the next year, the increases are planned to be modest and, consistent with last year's survey, one in five do not expect their company's headcount to ever return to pre-recession levels.
"Retailers can't wait for the economy to bounce back in order to fuel growth and will be investing into key areas such as technology and customer engagement, "added KPMG's Larson.
While waiting for the recovery to take the hold, 58 percent plan to increase capital spending over the next year. The highest priority investment area is information technology -- including data analytics and digital marketing channels -- cited by 51 percent of the executives in the KPMG survey. Other significant areas of investment for retailers are new products or services (43 percent), geographic expansion (33 percent), and advertising and marketing (24 percent).
When asked about digital marketing channels, retail executives in the 2012 KPMG retail survey indicate that online shopping (59 percent), social media platforms (58 percent), and e-mail campaigns (49 percent) are having the most significant impact on their businesses. Additionally, executive clearly indicate that the incorporation of mobile technology is also having a significant impact -- mobile shopping (36 percent), mobile promotions (28 percent), and mobile payments (21 percent).
Executives also say that the use of data analytics is playing a larger role in their strategic decision making -- including areas such as customer insight, brand and product management, pricing decisions and market expansion.
"With consumer behavior, spending and demographic profiles changing rapidly," said Larson, "a key to success will be investing in technology to harness the vast amount of data that resides in a company. That data can drive the insights that will allow retailers to interact with consumers more effectively and capture more 'wallet-share.' It may also reveal information on new markets, new strategies and new operating models that will ultimately generate growth and profitability."
Despite the momentum and growth investments retailers have experienced over the past year, executives point to lack of customer demand, pricing pressures and labor costs as the most significant barriers to revenue growth, and discounting practices, input costs and decreased sales volumes as the most significant threats to profit margins.
The KPMG survey was conducted in late-April 2012 and reflects the responses of 107 senior executives in the retail industry. Based on revenue in the most recent fiscal year, 35 percent of respondents work for institutions with annual revenues exceeding $10 billion, 41 percent with annual revenues in the $1 billion to $10 billion range, and 24 percent with revenues in the $100 million to $1 billion range.