News Column

Caution Creeps Into Holiday Shopping Forecast

September 17, 2013

Corilyn Shropshire, Chicago Tribune


Sept. 17--Consumers are expected to revert to the careful, cautious holiday spending habits of the recessionary years, ShopperTrak said Tuesday.

The Chicago-based research firm that monitors retail traffic is predicting that holiday sales will climb 2.4 percent from last year. That's a dip from last year, when holiday sales rose 2.5 over 2011.

"The consumer is a bit more cautious, and they are returning to the more surgical shopping approach they had in 2007, 2008 and 2009," ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin told the Tribune.

Despite the slow and steady economic recovery, rising gas prices, continued economic uncertainty and the possibility of an attack in Syria are weighing on consumers minds and wallets, Martin said.

Foot traffic in stores will also likely be lower this year compared to last, climbing only 1.4 percent, according to ShopperTrak. In 2012, foot traffic rose 2.5 percent from 2011. Fewer shoppers in stores is likely because increasing numbers of consumers researching and buying online and then picking up the product in stores, Martin said.

"Instead of going out to look at three or four stores to buy a TV, for example," he said, "we see consumers relying more and more on Internet intel to do research on products, price and availability."

Also affecting the holiday sales season will be an abbreviated time to shop: Only 25 days and four weekends lie between the traditional season kick-off on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Last year, the shopping season lasted 32 days.

So retailers, which have been launching their holiday promotions increasingly early in recent years, will likely launch promotions the day after Halloween, Martin predicted. Retailers, he said will aim to get to consumers' wallets earlier knowing the dynamics of the calendar.

Some retailers have already gotten started -- Kmart and Wal-Mart began promoting holiday layaway earlier this month and last week, Toys R Us kicked off its annual holiday push.

That's because holiday sales -- or dollars spent in November and December are crucial to retailers, as they account for roughly 20 percent of annual retail spending. To ensure they capture consumers early, retailers will likely push sales promotions early in November. Sales in December however, may shrink a bit as consumers spend earlier and slow down later in the season.

"We're getting growth on top of last year's growth, it's just not as strong as we've seen in the past," said Martin. "This is the conservative consumer trying to preserve cash at a time when they still feel a little uncomfortable and uncertain about the future." -- Twitter: @corilyns


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Original headline: Recessionary caution creeps back into holiday shopping forecast

Source: (c)2013 the Chicago Tribune

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