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2008: One Wacked-Out Year for Retail

By Alyce Lomax - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 7:56PM

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Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

It has been one heck of a year. When 2008 was in its infancy, people still argued about how bad a recession we were in for, and come to think of it, many argued we weren't in for a recession at all. Now we know the ugly truth. The continuous litany of bad news about the economy has had a major impact on one segment in particular: retail.

Many retailers now have single-digit price-to-earnings ratios. Some are now penny stocks. Some have already gone under, and several more probably will. The busted asset bubble and related debt hangover that we're currently trying to shake off impacts not only consumers who no longer have the resources to continue their no-holds-barred shopping sprees, but also retailers that have taken on too much debt and are truly feeling the pinch due to lower sales and traffic.

I've decided to take a light-hearted look at some of the best, worst, and retro moments in this historical year.

Best Retail Moments

  • Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) gave itself a facelift, but then again, the rotten economy suddenly made the Bentonville behemoth seem a whole lot more appealing to a whole lot more people.
  • Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) launched oatmeal as a new breakfast selection and despite the fact that you can get a tub of oats at the grocery much cheaper, it was a major hit. (Jamba Juice now has its own oatmeal plans.) That's great... but oatmeal?! Who knew?
  • Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI) compared the FTC's stance to the Red Queen's idea of justice in its press release for its lawsuit against the government agency: "'Now for the evidence,' said the King. 'And then the sentence.' 'No!' said the Queen. 'First the sentence, and then the evidence.'" Good stuff -- I can't resist a good Alice in Wonderland reference (and it's so appropriate).
  • Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI) expressed the ardent desire to acquire Circuit City -- I'm only nominating this as a "best" moment because I personally think it was one of the most hilariously bizarre things to occur all year. Sometimes you just need a good laugh in hard times.

Worst Retail Moments

  • Burger King took its appalling "King" ads to a whole new level by launching a meat-flavored cologne, "Flame." (Even worse, the "beefcake" King picture that's floating around the Web? Flame-broiled yuck, I say.)
  • Circuit City, Bennigan's, KB Toys, Linens N Things, Steve & Barry's, Tweeter, and Mervyn's filed for bankruptcy. How long will this list get?
  • Abercrombie & Fitch gave another indication of what a lot of us suspected it's really made of: shallowness, which along with runaway materialism, is so last year.
  • J. Crew made like it's 1996 and fielded a major technology snafu, which it made worse with a strange, cryptic apology. What are these Internets, again?

Most retro moment, look out below

  • Kmart brought back layaway. This reminds me of when I was a kid. There were gas lines and runaway inflation back then, too.

Looking ahead

It's been a weird and unsettling year, Fools. I firmly believe that now more than ever investors should search for retailers with the strongest brands, stellar balance sheets with plenty of cash and little debt, and solid management teams. I also believe that as always, it's Foolish to retain our sense of humor, especially as we watch a lot of strange things go down, along with the value of our portfolios. Unfortunately, the weirdness of 2008 isn't just going to stop when the ball drops on New Year's Eve.

Do you have any retail moments from 2008 that you think were best, worst, reminiscent of bad economic times of yore, or just plain silly? Because I'm sure I've forgotten plenty. Feel free to let us know in the comment box below.

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Wal-Mart Stores, Sears Holdings, Starbucks, and The Home Depot are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Whole Foods Market and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks and Whole Foods Market. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Stock Quote
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
WMT
$128.71 (-0.12%) $0.16
Sears Holdings Corporation Stock Quote
Sears Holdings Corporation
SHLDQ
Starbucks Corporation Stock Quote
Starbucks Corporation
SBUX
$86.13 (1.52%) $1.29
Whole Foods Market, Inc. Stock Quote
Whole Foods Market, Inc.
WFM
The Home Depot, Inc. Stock Quote
The Home Depot, Inc.
HD
$310.45 (1.72%) $5.24
Crocs, Inc. Stock Quote
Crocs, Inc.
CROX
$75.08 (5.78%) $4.11

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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