Wal-Mart

The uncertainty over this year’s election has potentially resulted in a delayed shift in purchasing gifts and a “watch-and-wait” attitude.

“Seventeen months of election coverage, political ads and an unexpected outcome have shifted shopper attentions away from thoughts of holiday celebrations, sugarplums and shopping lists,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, Inc., a New York-based brand loyalty and customer engagement research consultancy.

In its 22nd annual national holiday shopping survey, Passikoff found that this kind of behavior isn’t typical following a presidential election. He said the election cycle has resulted in consumers choosing to spend 1.8 percent more for the holiday this year, or an average $900 spend per household. Last year, the average holiday spend was predicted to be $885. Consumers, too, plan to shop even later than previous years.

“Retailers have recognized the shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviors too and have tried to offset them by kicking off Black Fridaylike sales even earlier than in previous years,” he said. According to 12,764 shoppers who participated in this year’s survey, uncertainty regarding this year’s election has created a “watch-and-wait,” more cautious shopping environment.

Prior to this year, consumers had been doing shopping earlier and earlier. Last year, 84 percent of consumers reported shopping before Black Friday. This year, only half that many consumers, or 41 percent, reported that they had shopped or intended to do so before Black Friday.

According to the Brand Keys survey, 4 percent were going to shop before September (off 7 percent); 5 percent were shopping in September (off 6 percent), 11 percent were shopping in October, (off 11 percent); 21 percent were shopping in November before Black Friday (off 20 percent) and 59 percent were shopping Black Friday and in December, 59 percent (up 43 percent).

According to Passikoff, “This year, a good deal of consumer emotion and attention were spent on the election. And it’s clear that consumers were waiting for some resolution and calm before they spent a lot of energy thinking about the holidays. Based on this year’s survey — although consumers have indicated that they intend to spend only a little more than last year — they seem to be seeking comfort, balance and gratification in a stress-free period of time…If advertisers are smart, they’ll take all that into account when they think about brand strategies and ratchet up advertising and promotions.”

As far as where they’ll shop, virtually all consumers interviewed (98 percent) said they will buy online again. Still, brick-and-mortar ranks high on consumers’ list of places they intend to shop, with consumers using multiple venues. Discount department stores (95 percent, up 5 percent); traditional department stores (83 percent, off 2 percent); specialty and apparel stores (45 percent, flat); electronics (25 percent, off 1 percent); price clubs (20 percent, off 2 percent); sporting goods stores (20 percent, flat), and outlet stores (10 percent, flat).

Catalogues (10 percent) are down another 6 percent from last year. “It appears that if a consumer can pull the same content on a computer, a tablet or a smartphone they regard hard-copy as redundant,” said Passikoff. “You need something very special when it comes to catalogs if you want to engage consumers.”

Consumers indicated which categories they intend to spend their money this year, and clothing and accessories ranked at the top of the list. The categories are clothing and accessories (80 percent, up 5 percent); electronics, phones, computers (50 percent, down 2 percent); personal care products, spa (45 percent, up 5 percent); kitchen, cookware (42 percent, up 3 percent); toys (20 percent, up 5 percent); jewelry (20 percent, off 4 percent); food and wine (20 percent, flat); sporting goods (12 percent, off 6 percent); books (10 percent, off 1 percent), and home decor (2 percent, down 5 percent).

Gift cards also had a good showing. Ninety seven percent indicated they will buy at least one this year, which could turn out to be a $34 billion windfall for the industry, said Passikoff.

As in holiday seasons past, value is paramount for all platforms. “This year in particular, retailers that can provide a sense of consumer comfort will see better bottom lines,” said Passikoff. Free shipping and returns; order online, pick up in store, or ship-to-store options will have holiday shoppers’ attention this year.

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