August 17, 2022

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Experts say given pandemic malaise, flat holiday spending in region is not bad

About an hour ago

Most Southwestern Pennsylvania consumers say they will spend what they did last year for holiday shopping, which is good news local experts say, given the pandemic and tough economics.

According to a regional survey, 57% of consumers said they planned to spend about the same as they did last year for the holidays, while most other consumers expected to spend less. Only 2% said they would spend more.

The results are from the Nov. 18-20 Pittsburgh Regional Consumer Sentiment Tracker, a recurring local survey conducted by Schmidt Market Research and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

“Given the circumstances and low level of confidence, holiday spending is relatively healthy,” said Vera Krekanova, chief strategy and research officer for the Allegheny Conference.

“We would expect people not to spend anything,” she said. “They are not very confident in their own economic stability, yet they do show support with their cash, and they do continue to spend locally at a relative healthy levels,” Krekanova said.

As in the past, Krekanova noted, every time there is a surge in covid-19 cases, as the region and country is currently facing, consumer confidence declines.

Audrey Guskey, an associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University, who has studied holiday spending for the past 30 years, predicted spending for 2020’s biggest shopping spree of the year would be flat, and so far, her prediction is on target.

On average, holiday spending year-over-year increases about 4%, Guskey said. Flat sales for 2020 holiday spending make perfect sense, she said.

“People are not sure about economy and they are going to be more cautious in their spending,” Guskey said.

The recent regional consumer survey notes that residents’ confidence on their personal situations such as financial health, spending, and employment are declining considerably.

Driving the negativity are concerns over the possibility of another business shutdown in the region, according to the survey.

For retailers, if holiday sales stay flat, that would be good for them, considering the pandemic and economic conditions, Guskey said.

However, for the small local retailers, flat sales or a slip in sales from last year will cause hardship and possibly be fatal, she said.

According to the regional survey, consumers said they would spend on average about 20% of their holiday shopping at local small businesses, which is about the same in 2019.

While consumers have good intentions of patronizing locally owned retail stores and sales were up for Small Business Saturday this year, some may end up not buying local, but may instead shop online, Guskey said.

“When you think online, you think of Walmart and Amazon,” she said. “People aren’t in the habit of checking out small stores online. And the big stores have huge online sale campaigns.”

Small businesses are hurting, Guskey said.

“They don’t have the backing and resources big stores have or online opportunities in place. Christmas might be a make-it-or-break-it time for these businesses,” she said.

The Allegheny Conference is currently working on a survey taking the pulse of local businesses’ fiscal health, Krekanova said.

During the summer, an early regional survey found that up to 23% of local businesses said they were facing survival issues.

“Small businesses are facing real survival issues, we know it’s happening,” she said.

Encouraging residents to shop local, Guskey noted that for every dollar spent at a local business, about 67 cents stays in the community.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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