Consumer holiday spending plans give little indication that Americans are worried about inflation and the risk of recession, according to a recent Deloitte survey.
Spending this holiday season is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels for the first time, the survey said. Consumers said they plan to spend an average of $1,652, representing a 14% year-over-year increase.
Although consumers across all income levels plan to do holiday shopping, nearly 30% of shoppers will be responsible for almost 70% of the holiday spending this year, spending an expected average of $2,146 or more this season. These high spenders are focused on high-quality products, while other shoppers concentrate on getting a great deal.
These shoppers may be right to dismiss recession concerns. Healthy economic growth paired with slowing inflation and steady job growth supports the narrative that the economy is headed towards a soft landing. Although some forecasts still predict a recession, it is likely to be mild and not prolonged.
"After several years of uncertainty, shoppers return to the familiar to make their holiday celebrations shine," Deloitte Consulting Principal Brian McCarthy said. "They plan to frequent their favorite retailers and focus their shopping during the traditional late fall period."
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Consumers expect higher prices
Prolonged inflation could make shopping more expensive this year. Around seven in 10 (72%) consumers expect higher prices, particularly in key categories, including food and beverage, clothing and accessories and electronics and accessories.
Rising costs also mean consumers may have a more challenging time sticking to their holiday budget. Fifty-seven percent of respondents are concerned about staying within budget this year and plan to purchase an average of eight gifts compared to nine in 2022; 54% plan to add items to their wish list or online shopping cart to wait for deals, up from 48% last year.
Shoppers are also turning to gift cards as a potential way to get ahead of or hedge inflation, the survey said — the average consumer plans to spend $300 on gift cards, up from $217 in 2022.
More consumers are turning to buy now, pay later (BNPL) to stretch their holiday budgets, according to a recent survey from Square and Afterpay. Roughly 40% said they plan to use BNPL to help them budget and manage their money during the holidays.
"Although inflation shows signs of moderating, consumers have come to expect higher prices and are adjusting their holiday spending accordingly," Deloitte Vice Chairman Nick Handrinos said. "We expect to see shoppers make their lists and check them twice for deals, but a return to pre-pandemic spending levels shows promise for the season overall. Retailers can expect continued store growth as shoppers aim to maximize their budgets with their favorite retailer, presenting new opportunities to build loyalty."
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Student loans won't hamper spending
While 17% of consumers surveyed have student loan payments resuming this fall, the impact on holiday spending budgets will likely be minimal, according to the Deloitte survey. Less than half (48%) plan to cut back on holiday expenditures and 32% expect to keep their holiday plans the same.
Student loan repayments resumed on Oct. 1 after a three-year moratorium on payments. These borrowers are spending $300 per month each on average on loan payments, according to a report from consumer data firm Earnest Analytics.
"With interest resuming in September and payments in October, a $300/month bill on many consumer budgets may add pressure to an already cautious spending environment," Earnest researchers said.
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