Share This Page

Uncertainty clouds retailers' outlook

| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 9:04 p.m.
The Arizona Star

Kathy Grannis is the senior director of media relations for the Washington, D.C.- based National Retail Federation, the world's largest retail trade association. She spoke to the Trib regarding consumer concerns over the prospect of sequestration in Washington and other factors that might impact Christmas shopping.

Q: Is the impending fiscal cliff causing retailers much trepidation as the Christmas shopping season moves into full swing?

A: There's no question that American consumers are paying attention to what's happening in Washington, as they always do. If it's not the fiscal cliff, it's always something else. When these kind of things happen during the holiday season, of course it's a bit more important for retailers. One of our recent surveys found that 64 percent of consumers said that political and economic uncertainty were impacting their spending plans.

Q: Is it an indication of how much your organization is concerned about the fiscal cliff that your CEO (Matthew Shay) recently wrote to President Obama, asking him to conclude those negotiations with Congress well before Dec. 31?

A: Yes. I think the bottom line is that we are looking for a temporary policy that would give consumers the confidence they need to at least get through the holiday season. One of the major concerns, of course, is that we could be entering a new year where consumers will be possibly at risk of losing a lot of money from their paychecks. That obviously could spell disaster, not just for the retail industry but also the economic recovery. As we saw in 2008, when consumers cut back and stop spending, (the impacts) also mean layoffs and business closures. There just are so many different (problems) that could come about if a solution isn't reached soon.

Q: Are you expecting any lingering effects on retail purchasing in the areas that were hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy?

A: The storm, of course, was a very unfortunate incident that could wipe out many small-business owners. It was a regional event, even though (it occurred) in a part of the United States that typically does have a large portion of the U.S. consumption rate. We're still waiting to see if this is going to have an impact on the holiday season. We don't know at this point.

Q: Christmas shopping seasons have occurred in challenging economic times for the past four years now. Has that resulted in any new seasonal shopping norms?

A: It's not just holiday shopping. Consumers have changed the way they go about managing their budgets entirely — from shopping earlier so they can spread out their payments, to using the Internet and mobile devices to compare prices and seek out the best deal. There's no question we are looking at a new normal now. The average family has had to cut corners for four years now. After a couple of years of playing it safe with their discretionary spending, it's really just a way of life for them now.

Q: But given that Black Friday now begins on Thursday and Cyber Monday has grown from a gimmick into a gargantuan shopping day, don't retailers have some cause for optimism this holiday season?

A: Yes, we are actually forecasting holiday sales to grow this year about 4.1 percent. That is down from last year's actual growth of 5.6 percent. But given the political and economic uncertainty, 4.1 percent is by no means a negative expectation.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com).

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.