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Kai Ryssdal: A bit later this week, we're going to get July sales numbers from the big retail stores. Everybody's going to be looking for clues about how the back-to-school shopping season's going to go. Consumers have been generally thrifty so far. But there was a sign today sign that things not be loosening up just a bit. Macy announced second-quarter profits went through the roof.
Marketplace's Adriene Hill went to find why, and to find out what retailers are doing to get customers in the door.
Adriene Hill: There's one word that describes retailers these days:
Wendy Liebmann: Nervous.
That's analyst Wendy Liebmann from WSL Strategic Retail. She says there's a real sense of uncertainty -- about the economy, about what's next. Shoppers are on edge, and retailers are doing all they can to ease their anxiety and get them into the store. Early sales figures point to a slow back-to-school season.
Liebmann says the retailer's first strategy is the deep markdown.
Liebmann: If you don't have a really good price and/or your customers don't think it's a really good price, they're just not even showing up.
But a big bargain isn't enough anymore. Department stores like JCPenney's and Dillards have been struggling. So retailers are looking for other ways to stand out -- they're tailoring their products to local shoppers.
Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski explains.
Jim Sluzewski: In Chicago, for example, we find that there is a much higher demand and preference for large sizes in women's shoes, size 11 for example.
Macy's doesn't know why there are more big-footed women in Chicago, but it's stocking and displaying more big-sized shoes in it's store there. Macy's also has launched exclusive brands -- including a line inspired by Madonna called Material Girl. And, it holds events around the country -- flower shows, parades, something called "Glamorama," billed as "a night of fashion, fantasy, music and magic."
Sluzewski says all these things help keep Macy's on shopper's minds.
Sluzewski: We don't necessarily need any consumer to spend more. But we would like them to spend more of what they spend at Macy's.
In this economy, that may be as much as any retailer can wish for.
I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.