As Amazon Prime Day deals go live today and holiday shopping ramps up, one survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has found that 74 percent of consumers plan to spend more or the same as they did last year. In a usual year, that wouldn't be much to celebrate, but with inflation near a 40-year high and many predicting a recession, no change could be a sign of consumer resilience in the face of uncertainty.
"I think the big story this year is a holiday outlook where spending is flat, which given the context of the overall economy, is still pretty strong," said Kelly Pedersen, retail leader for PwC US. "The real interesting part is who is spending money."
For instance, there is a widening gap between low and high-income consumers. Shoppers who make $120,000 a year are expected to spend 15 percent more than last year, totaling $2,759 on gifts, entertainment, and travel, or nearly double the average of $1,430.
"People that make over $120,000 a year are definitely spending more, whereas people in lower-income brackets are spending less," he said. "We think a lot of that has to do with the fact that they are hit harder by inflation around food and fuel."
Overall though, it's worth noting that 2021 was a strong year for holiday shopping, so even holding to those numbers would be an achievement. Anticipated spending is still up 20 percent from the doldrums of 2020 and 10 percent from before the pandemic in 2019.
However, not all age-groups are spending equally. Pedersen said the big demographic story this year is the emergence of millennials. "That age-group is coming into the prime of their careers," he said. "Obviously they've got bigger wallets."
They also benefited from the so-called "Great Reshuffling," in which high demand for labor allowed workers to change careers and boost their salary in the process.
"We're really seeing indicators of newfound wealth in the millennial generation," Pedersen said.
He added that millennials are more willing to tap consumer credit options, such as in-store credit cards or buy now, pay later options. Whereas Generation X shoppers used store credit cards less than Boomers, millennials are leading a resurgence in their use, in part because there are simply more options available.
"In the last five or 10 years, loyalty programs for retailers have been a real big focus," he said. "Those were always there, but the amount of retailers that have them has increased."
Against this backdrop, e-commerce continues to grow, and claw away market share from physical stores. Online holiday sales are expected to rise 2.5 percent from last year, hitting $209.7 billion between November and the end of December, according to data from Adobe Analytics. A good chunk of those sales will fall on Cyber Monday — about $11.2 billion in sales are predicted — as the relevance of Black Friday continues to wane
"The shape of the holiday season will look different this year, with early discounting in October pulling up spend that would have occurred around Cyber Week," said Patrick Brown, vice president of growth marketing and insights at Adobe, in a press release.
"Even though we expect to see single-digit growth online this season, it is notable that consumers have already spent over $590 billion online this year at 8.9 percent growth, highlighting the resiliency of e-commerce demand."