Election Unease Will Linger Through The Holiday Shopping Season

No matter who wins, half the country will be upset
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Regardless of whom you vote for tomorrow, we can all agree that the current election cycle has been unnerving for consumers.

Regardless of whom you vote for tomorrow, we can all agree that the current election cycle has been unnerving for consumers.

And this unease will apparently impact the holiday shopping season.

A recent poll of DealNews.com readers found that about a third of respondents will spend less this holiday season if their candidate loses. That’s not surprising in a tight race, where no matter who wins or loses the election, about half the country will be upset.

Compounding the problem, the impact of efforts to delegitimize the election process could extend well into the selling season, and families worried about the direction of the country may not want to splurge on non-essentials.

At the same time, other polls suggest that an improving economy and employment picture will boost holiday spending.  The National Retail Federation (NRF), for one, predicts holiday spending (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) will increase 3.6 percent this year.

While acknowledging that political uncertainty has “the greatest potential to shake consumer confidence,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz observed that “Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for more spending throughout the holiday season.”

Similarly, a PwC survey found even more optimistically that shoppers plan to increase their spending by 10 percent this year.

While the retail sector projections are probably too rosy, you can discount another possible thorn in the side of holiday shopping: Thanksgiving Day store closings. For years we’ve watched Black Friday sales begin earlier and earlier on turkey day, while the holiday’s deals and discounts increasingly dominated the entire promotional week, according to our data. And despite petitions and editorials condemning stores opening on Thanksgiving, hordes of shoppers turned out to take advantage of the offers nonetheless.

But last year retailers seemed to have hit a limit. The rise of online shopping and the prospect of missed family gatherings meant that stores that opened at 8 a.m. on Thursday remained empty for hours, and any additional sales revenue gleaned that day simply didn’t justify the costs.

Combined with the bad publicity, it makes a lot of sense for chains like hhgregg and shopping centers like the Mall of America to remain closed. Besides, early shoppers will still have plenty of brick-and-mortar options, not to mention countless digital ones. So far from being a bad sign, this is a smart adjustment that will ultimately help retailers, without hurting sales.

So the situation is really not as gloomy as it may sound. Consumer spending and confidence might not be growing as fast as we like, but they are growing, and 2016 will be no exception. Online sales will once again be up, with apps joining mobile browsers as a rapidly expanding resource for both shoppers and stores.

And even if some shoppers hold back on tangible gifts this year, there is good news in other areas: PwC found increased interest in food, travel and other activities.

Retailers are listening and realigning with these new priorities, focusing more on experiences. So maybe holiday sales of ovens, dishwashers and refrigerators will be boosted by free cooking classes.

Benjamin Glaser is the features editor of DealNews.com, a 19-year-old shopping advice site that provides buying guides, price trends, in-depth Black Friday coverage and retail news to help consumers make informed buying decisions.

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