It’s holiday shopping time. How have your shopping habits changed during the pandemic?
If you’re typical, you’re spending less in stores and more online. During spring lockdown, when non-essential businesses were closed, many of friends started shopping for groceries online, but not me. With no other place to go, my Tuesday morning excursion to Valli Produce was the highlight of my week. Unfortunately, nearly six months later, it still is, as the governor of my state recently issued an advisory stay-at-home order – just in time for the holidays.
The truth is I’m not much of a shopper. But I must admit, as COVID fatigue sets in, a diversionary trip to the mall for some holiday shopping sounds quite appealing. A bit of retail therapy can go a long way toward relieving some of the tedium and anxiety brought on by our new social distanced, stay-at-home lifestyles.
Whether we shop for the things we need, for fun, or to relieve stress, after eight months of restricted access to stores, restaurants, and health clubs, it’s apparent that our work and shopping habits have permanently changed. Even when we return to our “new normal,” many of us will continue to work and shop from home. Bill Gates recently predicted that business travel will be down by 50% and that at least 30% of our work will be done from home.
Not only are we working and shopping differently, we’re using our money differently. During the first few months of the lockdown, when the government issued enhanced unemployment benefits of $600/week, consumer debt went down, as people were using the extra income to pay off their credit cards and save for an even rainier day. Saving was easier than usual because there were few places to travel and eat out.
Even though the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between red and blue, urban or rural, or young or old, it does not treat “haves” and “have nots” equally. Many of those who have jobs that allow them to work from home are moving to more spacious suburban quarters and/or padding their nests with ergonomically designed office furniture, home-study workspaces and gym-grade exercise equipment.
At the same time, those who work in the hospitality, entertainment and service sectors, who do not have the option to work from home, are struggling to make ends meet. When the $600 checks stopped at the end of the July, many moved back home, when they could, drew down their savings, ran up their credit cards, and cut back on most discretionary spending. Millions of renters stopped paying rent so that they could put food on their table. When the federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of the year, they could be facing homelessness.
In his recent acceptance speech, President-elect Biden spoke of a “very dark winter” with coronavirus infections skyrocketing and the resulting economic pain. Even though drug makers Pfizer and Moderna are on the verge of applying for FDA approval of their vaccines, serious questions remain about their safety, how long their protection will last, and the challenge of rapidly producing and distributing hundreds of millions of doses that require deep-freeze storage. Compounding these challenges is Trump’s refusal to recognize Biden’s election victory, which could delay their rollout by months.
Due to all this uncertainty and the surge in COVID fueled online shopping, one thing is sure: this holiday season will be like no other. Governors in many states throughout the country have imposed a 10-person limit on Thanksgiving. Unsurprisingly, AAA, airlines, and the hotel industries forecast a significant decline in holiday travel; however, shoppers will continue to spend. According to a consumer survey conducted by Deloitte in September, 79% of respondents plan to spend the same or more on holiday shopping than last year, even though 59% of them are concerned about their financial situation due to the pandemic.
Now, two months later, I wonder if Deloitte’s September’s findings still hold. With new stay at-home orders and restrictions in place, are people still inclined to spend at and above last year’s levels? Or will caution prevail? On one hand, the ongoing and deepening concern about finances could seriously crimp spending. On the other, a healthy dose of retail therapy could enliven our holiday spirits and bring some much-needed joy after a long, difficult and unpredictable year.
What do you think? Let us know how you plan to celebrate and spend on your holiday shopping by commenting below.