When President Trump took office in January, Simone Wilson was worried about how it might impact her small business. Wilson, who co-owns Spartan Construction and Interior Design just outside of Seattle with her husband James, was afraid her clients might not be as willing to dig into their pockets for luxuries like interior design.
“But work didn’t even pause after the election,” Wilson said. “Our business is booming.”
Still, even with a thriving business, Wilson continues to be mindful about her finances. To save money, she buys staples for her business at places like T.J.Maxx and HomeGoods.
“It’s my favorite place,” Wilson said. “I run into clients there. Everyone is looking for a bargain these days.”
Wilson is just part of a growing trend of bargain shoppers that accelerated with the recession and continues into the Trump era. Despite an otherwise solid economy, shoppers are more cautious than ever about where they are putting their money.
“Consumers are being careful,” said Rubeela Farooqi, an economist at Stone McCarthy Research Associates in Princeton, New Jersey. “They were hit badly by the recession. They haven’t forgotten that.”
Meanwhile, because of online competition, malls across America are slowly dying and major chain stores like Macy’s and Sears are being forced to close stores. But the TJX Cos. Inc., which owns T.J.Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods, has seen an increase in sales and is looking to expand. The discounted stores, which offer name brands and designer goods for less and have only a minimal online presence, are an anomaly in the online shopping age.
Worried that her husband, who works a unionized electrician job near their Fairfield, California, home, might not be able to find work after Trump was elected, Tatiana Clark has been more conscious of where their income is going. Nevertheless, the family is still spending as much money as ever.
“I go to Marshalls a lot because I don’t feel bad spending money there,” said Clark, who stays home with their two small children. “I can find expensive brands there for a lot cheaper.”
The hunt for a good discount is reason enough for Amy D’Ambrosio, who lives outside of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to venture to her local T.J.Maxx or Marshalls.
“Anytime you can try to save money then you do it,” said the mother of three middle school-aged children. “I like getting brand names for half the price. If I can get shoes for half the price at T.J.Maxx because they are from last season, then that doesn’t matter to me.”
Long lines continue throughout the day at a Manhattan Marshalls. Photo © Kellie Ell
The London-based brand consultancy Brand Finance said the T.J.Maxx’s brand value has risen in value by 79 percent in the last year because of its reputation for markdown prices and cost-saving deals. Whereas market value tracks assets, brand value is the estimate of the trademark name alone. When a company’s brand value goes up, so does its popularity, which leads to an increase in sales.
“A strong trend for cost consciousness in western markets, originally initiated by the financial crisis, has been sustained across a broad range of demographics even as the economy has recovered,” said Robert Haigh, marketing and communications director of Brand Finance. “It’s a trend seen on both sides of the Atlantic.”
TJX’s 2016 fourth quarter sales, which ended in January, rose by 4% from the previous year, an increase in shares from $2.3 to $3.46 billion, making it their 30th consecutive quarter of sales growth. As recently as February, the TJX Cos. Inc. said they are considering opening as many as 1,800 stores over the coming year, for a global total of 5,600. Macy’s even went as far to say that T.J.Maxx stores are a bigger threat to them than internet giants like Amazon.
Then there is the treasure-hunt novelty of shopping at a place like T.J.Maxx.
In a press release, TJX CEO and President Ernie Herrman said, “Our eclectic merchandise mix and amazing values continue to resonate with consumers across our geographies.”
On nearly every trip to her local T.J.Maxx, Shelby Reed, an accountant in Manhattan, manages to find something she wants — even if she doesn’t need it.
“You look at things and you say, ‘I need this. I want to have this in my apartment,’” Reed said.
Indeed, in the age of the internet, not only do these stores serve as grown-up scavenger hunts, but the TJX stores are some of the few that have opted out of using the internet to push its brand.
“I like to think that in an age of pervasive information and the apparent availability of anything at the click of a button, customers enjoy the serendipity of chancing upon hidden gems and unexpected bargains in a way that isn’t really possible either online or at brand-name stores,” Haigh said.