Inflation is biggest concern for Pacific Northwest holiday shoppers

As concerns over inflation continue to grow, Pacific Northwest shoppers aim to be more fiscally conservative with spending intentions this holiday season, mirroring those at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from Washington State University’s Carson College of Business.

The college’s sixth annual holiday retail report finds 39% of shoppers surveyed are expecting to spend a similar amount as last year, a decrease in consumer demand compared to previous years (2019: 46%, 2020: 42%, 2021: 48%). Additionally, 32% of those surveyed say they intend to spend less, a drop in 10 percentage points since 2021 as spending intentions return to the 2020 holiday shopping season levels (32%). 

Of the four generations surveyed (Gen X, Gen Z, millennials, and boomers), boomers are more likely to spend an equivalent amount to last year (up 7 percentage points from 2021).  The report also finds 37% of millennials are most likely to slash their budget in comparison to 24% in 2021. Behind inflation, Pacific Northwest shoppers say high gas prices are the second biggest reason why they plan to decrease their spending.

As concerns over vaccines and mask mandates decrease, Pacific Northwest residents are feeling safer in-store (up 18 percentage points since 2021), although 81% say they are most likely to shop online for holiday spending, compared to 79% in 2021. Of those who plan to shop in store, nearly half are more likely to purchase a product from a company that is maintaining consistent staffing levels.

“As we enter the holiday season with a greater sense of normalcy than we’ve had in the past two years, excitement is increasing. Although concerns have greatly shifted away from safety, Pacific Northwest residents now look at inflation as having the greatest impact on their shopping experience this year,” said Joan Giese, associate professor (career track) of marketing. “Residents plan to continue doing their shopping in store and online but will start earlier than usual to avoid delays and stocking issues.” 

This year’s report surveyed more than 1,000 respondents in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The survey sought to understand how inflation, inadequate staffing, and ongoing supply chain issues have changed consumer behaviors, as well as how attitudes and perceptions toward the holiday shopping season have shifted.  

Key findings include:

Inflation is now the number one concern, with Pacific Northwest shoppers saying they plan to spend less this holiday season—similar to spending intentions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • In total, 85% of Pacific Northwest residents noted frustrations with the increasing price for goods, while 65% said the unreliability of what’s in stock will have the biggest impact on their holiday shopping.
  • Among those who plan to decrease their spending, inflation is the number one reason (80%), followed by high gas prices (57%), and the possibility of a recession (47%). 
  • 39% plan on spending the similar amount as last year, showing there’s a decrease in consumer demand compared to previous years.
  • This year, 32% report intentions to spend less, which is a 10 percentage points (PP) increase from 2021;, however, the finding is  similar to how Pacific Northwest shoppers responded in 2020 at the height of the pandemic (32%) (2019: 26%).

While Pacific Northwest residents are increasingly returning to in-store shopping, inadequate staffing and supply chain issues are among their biggest concerns.

  • For those who do plan to shop in-store, nearly half are more likely to purchase a product from a company that is maintaining consistent staffing levels in order to provide a positive shopping experience.
  • 52% say poor in-store shopping experience (not enough staff, staff seem stressed out, etc.) will impact their holiday shopping/spending.
  • Last year, despite a greater concern for safety due to COVID-19, Pacific Northwest shoppers said they were more likely to shop in-store to avoid supply chain issues and shipping delays, with 44% declaring in-store shopping to be easier. This year, despite nearly 18 PP more shoppers feeling safe to shop in-store, 81% say they are most likely to shop online for holiday spending, compared to 79% in 2021.
  • 9 PP more Pacific Northwest shoppers say they are likely to purchase online from local stores and have items delivered to their homes, compared to 43% in 2021 and 47% in 2020.
  • More Pacific Northwest residents are shopping earlier this year, stating their biggest motivators are stretching their holiday budget (58%) and avoiding sold-out stock (46%) and supply chain delays (45%). 

Small and local businesses remain top of mind for Pacific Northwest shoppers this season despite economic concerns.

  • Regional support for small businesses peaked in 2020, marking the first major holiday season spent in a pandemic. 
  • While local businesses are still top of mind, 3% PP more say shopping locally is not as important as last year (2022: 69%; 2021: 72%).
  • Consistent with last year, 54% reported their likelihood to purchase from a company is based on how that company helps its local community, with 56% reporting it impacts their purchasing decisions; compared to 54% of shoppers in 2021 and 55% in 2020, who stated it impacted their purchasing decisions. 
  • While curbside pickup was popular last year, 52% of Pacific Northwest residents are more likely to support local businesses with home delivery.

Holiday cheer is on the rise for another year in the Pacific Northwest.

  • After the initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Pacific Northwest region has continued to show an increased interest in traveling, especially from boomers whose interest in traveling to visit friends and family has risen by 14 PP. 
  • The overall enthusiasm toward Pacific Northwest residents traveling this holiday season has increased by 3 PP since last year, but with last year’s enthusiasm to travel having been reported at 8%, the rate at which enthusiasm has risen has slowed.
  • Although younger generations continue to show the most enthusiasm toward holiday shopping and celebrating compared to older generations, there has been a slight dip in Gen Z enthusiasm levels this year.
  • Gen X and boomers have seen the biggest jump in enthusiasm to celebrate (up 5 PP and 9 PP from last year, respectively), although millennials and Gen Z have the highest levels of enthusiasm overall.

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