consumer perceptions


Retailers Say Consumers Are Worried -- But Are They?

In October, the retail world goes into forecasting overdrive, with many organizations cranking out predictions for the coming quarter. And this year, as organizations also try to tease out inflation's impact and other macro-worries, Marketing Daily can hardly keep up. But before committing to an “up, down, or flat” position, maybe everyone can pop a few Tums and take time to let those tea leaves brew.

Data often contradicts itself. There are many types of consumers, and income and job stability play a big part in confidence.

But this year, the picture seems more confusing than ever. Consider Walmart, which recently said it is bringing back its popular inflation-free Thanksgiving. It will offer the basket of traditional items at an even lower price than last year, aiming to feed 10 people for just $70. Aldi is also banking on Thanksgiving thriftiness, knocking as much as 50% off 70 holiday classics.



Walmart says the promotion is driven by its research, which finds that 92% of consumers are concerned about inflation, which 60% say will impact their budgeting.

Still, if people are that worried about money, it’s hard to see why Walmart is also offering another deal. When people buy their holiday lights at Walmart, a QR code on shelves lets them hire someone from Angi to come and put the lights up on the exterior of their homes -- and return after the holiday to remove them for $229.

Don’t get me wrong. That’s a good deal, and I’m always happy for an excuse to keep my family members off ladders and icy rooftops. But are the same people who are so eager to find frozen turkey priced at less than $1 a pound also likely to think this is a good year to outsource the holiday lights?

Maybe. The latest data from McKinsey shows that while the spending increases in September were somewhat more significant for middle and higher-income shoppers, year-over-year spending is up for all ages and income groups. And younger consumers, especially, aren’t fretting about the Consumer Price Index. They’re in the mood to splurge, including 55% of Gen Z-ers and 54% of millennials. Restaurants, groceries, travel and apparel are all on their list of ways to treat themselves.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal, called “Americans are still spending like there’s no tomorrow,” pointed to record revenue at Delta Airlines, with increased spending on four-figure concert tickets and designer handbags as additional evidence.

The pressures are undeniable, of course. Student loan payments are resuming. Daycare and rent remain out of reach for many, and credit-card delinquencies have begun to creep up.

 Maybe retailers are too quick to blame consumer apprehension when citing declining sales. Sales may be down at Macy’s and Nordstrom, but Lululemon is doing fine.

That’s why a release from GfK this morning had such an impact on me. The market research company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Consumer Life Survey, headlined, “It’s still the economy, stupid.”

Turns out that inflation and high prices have been people’s No. 1 concern for 50 years. You read that right. In bull markets and crushing recessions, high inflationary periods, and low ones, people are always worried about high prices. And in this most recent survey? Some 46% today say that financially, they are “doing fairly well.” In 1974, when the survey started, just 41% agreed with that statement.

Maybe this year, retailers should focus less on what consumers say, and more on what they do.

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