Fewer shoppers this year — 31% — plan to spend the same or more this holiday season, down 4 percentage points from last year, according to research from consulting firm AlixPartners that was emailed to Retail Dive. Fewer say their financial health is better than 12 months ago, and fewer believe the economy is improving, according to the research.
Tariffs threaten to dampen holiday spending further. A fifth of the consumers with holiday budgets that are smaller this year say that if tariffs boost prices more than 10% they'd forgo a purchase, the firm found.
A vast majority (92%) say they'll be starting their holiday shopping the same time they did last year, if not earlier, according to the report.
Several early holiday sales projections are calling for healthy year-over-year advances, but emerging weakness in consumer confidence could interfere with that.
"We saw a dramatic drop-off in consumer sentiment and future outlook in this year's survey," Roshan Varma, a director in the retail practice at AlixPartners and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.
The extra 15% in tariffs that earlier this month was tagged onto products like smartwatches, drones, TVs, headphones and smart speakers, plus more coming to products like smartphones and videogame consoles, leaves retailers with little room for error, Varma said. "That, among other things, means being strategic about what differentiated value-added services to offer and then implementing them with highest of efficiency," he said.
While AlixPartners pinpointed consumers' reaction to tariff-related price hikes, generalized anxiety around that could be more of a problem for retailers.
"Consumers could be spooked by the escalating trade war, but even with consumer goods coming under tariffs in the next few months, we expect the direct impact to the consumer to remain limited," Wells Fargo Senior Economist Tim Quinlan said in a note Friday. "It is the indirect hit to consumer confidence that is more worrisome."
Consumer fundamentals, including income, wealth, savings and employment "are in good shape," according to Wells Fargo analysts. "But, confidence is a fickle thing, and if consumers get alarmed, it could curtail spending," they warned, noting that the Conference Board's consumer confidence measure plunged nine points this month.