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Splurge Or Save? Holiday Spending May Hinge On How You Voted

Customers at Walmart's Black Friday shopping event in Rogers, Ark, Nov. 26, 2015.
Associated Press
Customers at Walmart's Black Friday shopping event in Rogers, Ark, Nov. 26, 2015.

Splurge Or Save? Holiday Spending May Hinge On How You Voted
Splurge Or Save? Holiday Spending May Hinge On How You Voted GUEST: Paula Peter, associate professor of marketing, San Diego State University

A divisive election that left half the country deflated and the other half rejuvenated could reverberate through the holiday shopping season in the kind of gifts people are giving or how much they spend.

Some retailers say they have seen a surge in feel-good items such as spa treatments, candles and comfort food, while executives at some major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Macy's, have said there's no discernable shift in consumer behavior since the presidential election won by Republican Donald Trump.


The divide in the outlook may reflect the rift in the election, as Americans split along geographic lines as well as by income.

"I don't need a comfort dog. I don't need anybody to feel sorry for me," said Rhondi Bleeker, 50, of Totowa, New Jersey. "I'm actually happy because I was for Trump."

Bleeker, who owns an eyelash extension business, believes the economy will be better now. She says she'll still be spending the same $3,000 as she does every holiday season, but she believes her business could do even better because whether people are sad or happy, most will want retail therapy.

Some shoppers say they plan to divert money from traditional gifts like sweaters to donations to charity groups in their friends' or relatives' names.

Ryan Holmes of Chicago, who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, said he plans to devote at least one-quarter of the $750 he typically spends on holiday gifts to doing that. Even for gifts like music or books, he says he can't help but feel he might make a political statement such as perhaps giving a book on climate change to educate a friend.


"I am frightened to what's to come, and sad and less hopeful," said Holmes, 34, an urban planning and real estate consultant. But he added, "I'm feeling more engaged."

Shoppers have generally been moving away from buying "stuff" and more towards spending on experiences. Factors from the weather to when Thanksgiving falls already affect how stores fare at the holidays, and retailers from department stores to discounters are under intense pressure from online sellers to offer low prices and convenience.

A dip in buying before a presidential election is normal as people are distracted, but spending usually bounces back afterward.

Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst and director at Adobe Systems, an online research company, said that between Nov. 1 and Nov. 14 this year, retailers lost out on more than $800 million in online revenue, with the sharpest drop happening after the Nov. 8 election. States that voted Democratic have seen the biggest drops since the election, she said. Gaffney says she's waiting to see how the Thanksgiving weekend plays out and may have to revise the original holiday online sales growth forecast of 11 percent.

"We are in uncharted territory," said Gerald Storch, the CEO of Hudson's Bay Co., which operates department stores under that name, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. "We will know more as we get past Black Friday."

The divide could play into the hands of retailers who customize goods to cater to increasingly fragmented tastes.

"While some people might drive an election boost, there are going to be others that will hold back," said Frank Badillo, director of research at consumer research group MacroSavvy LLC. "The winners and losers are going to be divided by category, by store, by different parts of the country."

Peter Gold, chief marketing officer at Market America's online marketplace, says since late October he's seen a sales surge in spa products, candles, and comfort food that he expects will continue through the holidays.

Products that bear words like "hope" and "kindness" are seeing sales as much as double since the election, says Lee Rhodes, founder and CEO of the nine-store Glassybaby chain that sells handblown glass items. Those with themes like "elf" and "joy" have not kept pace, she said.

Nielsen's most recent surveys have shown that food has catapulted into the No. 2 spot in terms of hot holiday gifts, past toys and consumer electronics this season, said Jordan Rost of the company's consumer insights division. Gift cards ranked first, as they have for several years. He said food is a safe bet for retailers because millennials turn to comfort food when they are stressed, and baby boomers turn to food as a reward.

Miriam Naficy, whose online retail site Minted crowdsources stationery as well as art and home decor, noticed a gap in what customers wanted in greeting cards. After rising 9 percent since Oct. 1 in all states, the demand for the word "cheer," in holiday cards has fallen 14 percent since the election. Demand for cards using "peace," which is not usually as popular, was up 14 percent, and those using "hope" rose 9 percent.

"We are scrambling quickly to repurpose the cards," said Naficy. "Half the audience is happy; the other half are not. Some people are trying to send love in their own way — some people want to send love in a quiet way. You have to have something for everyone."