Will consumer spending bring holiday cheer to businesses in 2016?

hdsThe holiday season isn’t yet upon us, and already there are a plethora of prognostications being made as to how holiday sales will stack up compared to prior years.

These predictions come courtesy of numerous forecasters including the National Retail Foundation, Deloitte, Kantar Media, eMarketer, the International Council of Shopping Centers, Market Track and others.

So what’s in store? On balance, forecasters predict that holiday sales in the United States will post an increase of approximately 3.5%.  That’s higher than the 10-year rolling average of 2.5% but down a tick from last year’s 3.7% increase.

Still, at more than $655 billion in total sales, holiday spending continues to be the biggest single driver of the U.S. consumer market.

Hardly surprising, e-commerce sales are expected to continue their double-digit growth over last year’s holiday season, with various predictions ranging from 14% to 17% growth in this sector. Not only are consumers attracted by the convenience of online shopping, many of them believe they can find products at the cheapest price via online sources rather than taking a trip to the shopping mall.

Another factor that drives at least some people to shop on their online devices is their aversion to the crush of holiday shopping at the stores. A McKinsey study has found that nearly one-third of U.S. consumers basically hate Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), and make it a point to stay as far away from it as possible.

But there’s one drawback for businesses about online holiday shopper dynamics, however:  Those consumers tend to be less brand loyal than is typical. RJ Metrics calculates that the typical e-commerce business acquires nearly 25% of its new customers during just the months of November and December.  Tempering that healthy statistic is the lifetime value of those consumers, which RJ Metric has determined is about 13% lower than the lifetime value of customers acquired at other times of the year.

You might be wondering what amount of money the typical U.S. consumer will spend on his or her holiday shopping this year. Wait for it:  The 2015 per capita amount is expected to be $935.

That figure may seem quite rich … but it’s actually a little bit lower than 2015’s average spend-per-person, which at $953 happens to have been the all-time high ever recorded.

Does the new $935 forecast signify a reversal of a trend … or is it just a pause in an otherwise ever-increasing amount of money that consumers are willing to plunk down as part of their celebration of the holiday season?

Check back in about a year and we should have an answer.

Holiday Sales: “Many Happy Returns”

retHere’s an interesting statistic coming out of the holiday season this year: Nearly one in four consumers has returned at least one of the gifts they received.

For gifts purchased online, returns are an even bigger part of the equation – as in one third of all online gift purchases being returned.

It’s part of a trend that’s growing at a pretty swift pace. In 2014, a total of $285 billion worth of merchandise was returned in the U.S., a 6% increase over the previous year and more than double the growth rate of retail sales as a whole.

Industry observers are expecting higher figures again for 2015 once the stats are fully tallied.

Which holiday gift items tend to be returned most often? In a survey of ~500 U.S. consumers conducted between December 28 and 31, 2015 by mobile app shopping circular developer Retale, the following gift categories were cited most frequently by respondents:

  • Jewelry: ~32%
  • Electronic products: ~29%
  • Gift cards: ~27%
  • Clothes/apparel: ~26%
  • Home décor/home improvement items: ~23%

Consumers may have gravitated to online shopping big-time this past holiday season, but as for the gift return “experience,” it’s pretty clear that consumers continue to prefer making a return at the store (~64%) rather than online (~12%).

Evidently, the “hassle factor” of shipping merchandise back to the seller – not to mention the cost of return shipping if that isn’t offered free of charge – is more onerous than getting in the car and driving to the store outlet.

As for the mountains of merchandise that retailers are having to deal with, it’s caused the growth of an entirely new business niche: reverse logistics firms.

These companies input information on each returned item and determine the most lucrative way for the retailer to dispose of it – which can include sending it to a wholesaler, selling it to a liquidator for scrap, or sending it to a distribution center to be repaired and resold.  Online “refurbished products” stores on Amazon and eBay enable retailers realize up to 70% of an item’s worth by selling those items directly to value-conscious consumers, compared to recouping only 20% or 30% in the past.

It’s part of the action –> reaction aspects of retail that pretty much define this industry.