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Holiday spending: Consumers say they plan to pull back this year
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Retailers are gearing up for another blockbuster holiday shopping season, but consumers burned by the highest inflation in a generation may have other ideas.

Industry groups are predicting another record year of retail sales, with the National Retail Federation forecasting a jump of 6% to 8% over the US$890 billion consumers spent online and in stores in November and December of 2021.

But Jeff Bezos, founder and chairman of the biggest retailer of them all, seems to be anticipating a much less festive holiday for businesses. In November 2022, Amazon said it is laying off 10,000 workers, one of several big companies announcing job cuts recently. Bezos even cautioned consumers to hold off on big purchases like cars, televisions and appliances to save in case of a recession in 2023.

Results from our new survey suggest consumers appear to be already taking Bezos’ advice, as a combination of soaring consumer prices, rising borrowing costs and growing odds of a recession weighs on their wallets. And if our survey results do pan out, it may mean the recession everyone’s worried about happens sooner than expected.

Crisis behaviors

We conducted our survey in mid-November, about a week before Black Friday, the historical start of the holiday shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday because it signals the period when retailers hope to sell enough goods so that their income statement shows “black,” or profit, for the year rather than “red,” which refers to losses.

We asked over 500 consumers a series of questions about their spending plans, concerns and priorities during this year’s holiday season. Participants were split evenly between men and women, and almost two-thirds had a household income of $70,000 or less.

Overall, the most alarming conclusion from our research is that consumers are reporting consumption behaviors typically exhibited during an economic crisis, similar to those observed in 2009 by consultancy McKinsey during the Great Recession.

One data point stands out: An overwhelming 62% said they were concerned about their job security, while almost 35% indicated they were “very” or “extremely” worried about their financial situation.

Here are three behaviors we found in our survey that suggest consumers are behaving as if the U.S. economy is already in a recession.

1. Spending less

Not surprisingly, cutting spending is the first thing consumers do during economic turmoil.

A study by McKinsey in early 2009 found that 90% of U.S. households cut spending due to the Great Recession, with 33% of consumers indicating a significant cut.

Similarly, respondents to our survey said they plan to spend, on average, around $700 this holiday season, substantially lower than the roughly $880 consumers spent during each of the past three seasons – including early in the pandemic in 2020.

About a third of our sample intended to spend “slightly” or “much” less than in 2021, while 35% said they would spend “about the same” – which from a retailer’s perspective means spending less because last year’s dollars don’t go as far today. The rest said they planned to spend a little or much more.

Inflation is one of the key reasons consumers say they are spending less. Almost 80% of respondents said they are either moderately, very or extremely concerned about the surge in prices, and 87% said those concerns would affect their holiday spending behavior, such as by buying gifts for fewer people or purchasing less expensive items.

Some of our respondents even said they were planning to make their own gifts or buy used goods, rather than shop for new items. The secondhand market has boomed in the last few years, and many shoppers view this option as a way to combat inflationary pressures.

2. Planning ahead

Another thing consumers do when they sense a troubled economy is they plan their purchases more carefully and maintain self-control over spending.

Common strategies include spending more time searching for the best deals, adhering to strict shopping lists, prioritizing necessities and making purchases earlier to spread out their spending – all of which were mentioned by our survey respondents.

We may already be seeing signs of this last strategy. Retail sales for October were up 1.3% from the previous month and up 8.3% from October 2021, which may reflect consumers’ early holiday shopping. If that is the case, this early shopping may result in slumping sales in December.

Also, purchasing early, aided by the plethora of steep discounts offered well in advance of Black Friday, allows consumers to control their shopping behavior better and reduces the risk of impulse buying. Reduction of impulse buying is a strong indicator that consumers are shopping like the economy is in recession.

In our survey, we found that over 50% of participants said that they would be using savings to cover the cost of holiday spending, with many stressing that they would pay with cash. Using cash as a primary form of payment is the main tool consumers have to control spending.

Only 15% of our respondents said that they would use buy-now-pay-later options, which to us is another sign that consumers are preferring cash over forms of credit that creates a new debt.

3. Hypersensitivity to price

During economic crises, consumers become hypersensitive to prices, which trump most other considerations in the minds of consumers.

A whopping 90% of our respondents confirmed that price is their major consideration when shopping during the holidays this year. Other elements of price sensitivity are free shipping, product value and the level of discount, if any.

The singular focus of consumers on price gives retailers a wide range of potential responses, including promoting house brands and private labels that are perceived as having greater value for money. In fact, according to the 2009 McKinsey report, one of the biggest shifts in consumer behavior during and after the 2008 recession was the switch in preference from high-priced premium brands to value brands that tend to have lower prices but still decent quality. During an economic slowdown, consumers typically stop buying brands they are not strongly connected with or loyal to.

Consumers in our survey said buying brand names will be one of the least important influences on their purchases this season.

While economists debate whether a recession is coming, or even whether the U.S. is already in one, our data suggests consumers are beginning to behave like one is already here. That risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as consumers tighten their belts.

Ayalla A. Ruvio is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Michigan State University, and Forrest Morgeson is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Michigan State University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here:


OP-ED: The FTX dog that didn't bark
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In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes tale, “Silver Blaze,” the detective investigates the case of a murder of a horse trainer. At first, investigators presume that the murderer of the trainer must have been a stranger to him. But Holmes cracks the case with the revelation that a watchdog remained silent the night of the murder – a “curious incident,” as Holmes puts it, if the watchdog had been confronted by a stranger. No, Holmes concludes, the murderer must have been known to the watchdog.

We would do well to keep Holmes’ “curious incident” in mind when discussing the complete meltdown of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange run by Sam Bankman-Fried, a man who looks like he emerged from a laboratory dedicated to the manufacture of charlatans. Bankman-Fried was, at one point, worth some $26 billion; his exchange was the second largest in the world. But he also bragged about never reading books (“I think, if you wrote a book, you (expletive) up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post”); he lived in a “polycule” – a polyamorous semi-colony – along with nine of his executives; he wore gym shorts and T-shirts to important company events with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair; he placed at the head of human resources the girlfriend of the director of engineering and as chief operating officer his own intermittent girlfriend and as head of his associated hedge fund yet another intermittent girlfriend.

The red flags were endless.

And yet the scam continued.

In the coverage of FTX’s meltdown, many in the media have been rather slow to ask a simple question: why didn’t anybody notice that SBF was one of the most obvious scam artists of all time? Perhaps it’s the insanity of the digital age, in which those fresh out of college can be assessed as billionaires without actually showing a balance sheet. But there’s something else going on here: SBF was a key cog in a political machine dedicated to the proposition that a coalition of like-minded Left-wingers can seize the reins of capitalist enterprise and then work with friends in government to reconstruct the world.

That, after all, was what SBF was publicly attempting to do. He dumped $40 million into the midterm elections in support of Democrats; he donated $5.2 million to then-candidate Joe Biden during the 2020 election cycle. He had pledged the FTX foundation to hand out $1 billion in 2022. He did all of this in the name of supposed “effective altruism,” a philosophy in which Left-wingers seek to use capitalism in order to enrich themselves, then dump the money into favored causes. “I wanted to get rich, not because I like money but because I wanted to give that money to charity,” SBF told one interviewer.

“Effective altruism” is just another iteration of the World Economic Forum-approved “stakeholder capitalism” idea – the idea that CEOs owe their shareholders nothing, but the world at large their time, money and resources. There is a reason that FTX had partnered with WEF – a fact that WEF has now obscured by cleaning its website.

How many scam artists are using such “bluewashing” in order to cover for malfeasance – all the while colluding with government figures to redraw regulations that benefit them? That, after all, was SBF’s biggest scam: He was an advocate of particular types of regulation that benefitted him and used both familial and business connections in order to protect his corporatism.

And that’s the dog that didn’t bark here: Where were the regulators with whom SBF was close? Where were the supposed advocates of “ethical capitalism,” who posit social responsibility but whose friends seem to repeatedly be caught with their fingers in the cookie jar, dating all the way back to Bernie Madoff?

Maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t with capitalism per se, and its chief admonition caveat emptor, its belief that trust is to be earned rather than granted freely. Maybe the problem is with a cadre of supposed protectors of the public who aren’t out to protect the public at all, but to hobnob with other “change agents” from Bahamian estates while patting themselves on the back for all the good they’re doing.

Ben Shapiro is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and co-founder of Daily Wire+.