Holiday shopping heads into the home stretch

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 340 views 

Customers shop from hundreds of deals at Walmart's Black Friday event on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018 in Bentonville, Ark. (Gunnar Rathbun/AP Images for Walmart)

With just nine days until Christmas, the holiday shopping push heads into the home stretch as consumers must place those online orders soon or bravely take their chances for bargains at brick-and-mortar stores.

Retailers from Bath & Body Works to Walmart continue to push out holiday specials hoping to draw in consumers for those last-minute gift finds.

Coresight Research CEO Deborah Weinswig reports U.S. consumers still have a lot of shopping to do, which is good news for retailers still trying to rake in holiday sales. She said the late Thanksgiving means shoppers on average have completed less of their holiday purchases through the first 10 days of December compared to a year ago.

As of last week, 61.4% of consumers surveyed by Prosper Insights & Analysts said they had completed 75% of their shopping this year. But, one in seven said they had not started to shop for holiday gifts.

Weinswig said this condensing of the shopping period heaps pressure on retailers to get it right the first time.

“Retailers have less time to recoup lost sales from any missteps in ranging, promotions or availability, and it reduces the inventory replenishment cycle, increasing logistical pressure,” Weinswig noted.

“The good news is that we expect any negative impact on spending by consumers to be very limited: Shoppers do not buy fewer gifts or spend less per gift because of a calendar shift, so the only real loss is in incremental impulse purchases that would be made over a longer shopping season,” she added.

Spending expectations appear to support solid demand this year as just 15% of respondents said they will spend less than a year ago. This compares to 18.1% in 2018. The same survey found a 3.9-percentage-point increase in the proportion of shoppers who expect to spend the same as last year, from 50.9% in 2018 to 54.8% in 2019, Weinswig notes.

The holiday season got off to a strong start, albeit about a week later than usual. Online sales were especially robust as Adobe Analytics reported a 19.6% increase from a year ago, with Cyber Monday sales rising 19.7% from a year ago. Adobe also reported traffic at brick-and-mortar outlets declined a bit from a year ago.

Coresight stands by its predictions of a 4% year-over-year retail sales increase for the holiday sales period (November and December).

Weinswig said lower gas prices are a plus for holiday spending adding as much as .50% to the overall sales. She said consumer confidence has been resilient amid the ongoing trade issues between the U.S. and China.

The recent announcement of a “phase-one” agreement between the U.S. and China was positive news for retailers, product suppliers and consumers. While there are still more details to uncover, a number of retail stocks rallied on Monday with Walmart (NYSE:WMT) trading at $120.97, up 68 cents. The Dow Jones Retail Index traded up 8 points at midday on Monday.

Retail sales in November, as reported Monday by the U.S. Department of Commerce, were up 3.3% from the year-ago period despite rising only fractionally from the prior month.

Food and retail sales totaled $528 billion last month. The biggest gainers were online retailers with sales rising 11.5% year-over-year.