Consumers Will Use Credit, Dip Into Savings in Face of High Inflation, Trade Group Says
Retailers expect holiday spending to increase 6% to 8% over last year, with some consumers dealing with rising inflation and higher prices by dipping into savings or whipping out credit cards to shop.
The National Retail Federation released a 2022 forecast for holiday shopping it expects to be healthy "even with recent inflationary challenges." Retail sales from November through December will range from between $942.6 billion to $960.4 billion, according to the trade group. That's up from $889.3 billion last year, which was a record-breaking jump of 13.5% over 2020, the worst year for store closings during the pandemic. Holiday retail sales have averaged an increase of 4.9% over the past decade.
The holiday period is the most critical time of the year for brick-and-mortar retailers, and it can be a make-or-break time for stores to ring up revenue.
During a conference call with reporters, federation President and CEO Matthew Shay discussed the macroeconomic pressures burdening Americans, such as soaring gas and heating costs. Nonetheless, consumers remain resilient.
"We know against the backdrop of a challenging economic environment and substantially elevated levels of inflation, rising interest rates, that's playing a role in the the way in which consumers are behaving," Shay said. "And we know from what they're telling us and from the behavior that we're seeing that in the face of these challenges and the face of the uncertainty that's taking place across the economy, consumers are behaving more thoughtfully, a bit cautiously, but yet they continue to spend on household priorities."
The National Retail Federation's outlook, for an industry that will benefit from a solid increase in spending, is perhaps a bit more bullish than what brokerage JLL forecast last month based on its annual holiday survey. JLL found that consumers planned to spend on average $868 on holiday shopping, basically flat compared with the $870 it said they would spend last year.
Holiday Spending Varies
But like JLL, the NRF said there is variation in consumer spending and behavior between households at different income levels. As would be expected, lower-income families are restricted in their shopping, while more affluent households are less constrained.
"Consumer spending at higher levels continues to be robust, and for consumers in households at slightly lower levels — even in the face of the challenges — it remains durable and resilient, which I think is quite impressive," Shay said. "But those lower-income households in particular are feeling the pinch of rising costs on everyday essentials, and those are the households that I think we're all paying close attention to as we move into the holiday season."
Despite the challenges posed by the U.S. economy, spending is being buoyed by job growth, increases in wages and stockpiled savings from the worst of the pandemic, according to Shay and retail federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. In some cases, consumers will pull money out of those savings or rack up debt to "provide a cushion" and supplement their holiday spending, Shay said.
The National Retail Federation expects that online and other nonstore sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 10% and 12% to between $262.8 billion and $267.6 billion. That number is up from $238.9 billion last year, which saw "extraordinary growth in digital channels," according to the NRF.
While e-commerce will remain important, the NRF said it expects households to shift back to in-store shopping and a more traditional holiday shopping experience.
"Consumers really do enjoy their in-store experience," Shay said.
Americans also plan to kick off their holiday shopping earlier, to spread out their spending, avoid stress and be sure to get the products they want, the retail federation said. This year, due to concerns about inflation, 46% of holiday shoppers said they planned to browse or buy before November, according to the trade group's annual survey, which is conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. Consumers plan to spend $832.84 on average on gifts and holiday items such as decorations and food, in line with the average for the last 10 years, the National Retail Federation said.
The group’s holiday forecast is in line with the organization’s full-year forecast for retail sales, which predicted retail sales will grow between 6% and 8% to more than $4.86 trillion in 2022.