Consumer spending, which has stayed resilient despite headwinds from a lack of additional fiscal stimulus and a labor market decimated by COVID-19, is showing promise ahead of the holiday season.
On Friday, data showed that retail sales rose 1.9% in the month of September, climbing for a fifth month in a row — even as personal income dropped and consumers are saving money at historically high levels, with anxiety about the coronavirus recovery running high. Meanwhile, apparel sales are suffering as many professionals work remotely.
However, the former CEO of Toys R Us and Hudson’s Bay told Yahoo Finance that the current environment actually spells great news for the Thanksgiving to Christmas shopping sprint.
“I think holiday sales will be very strong. I’ve been saying that all along. People have been saving their money,” Gerald Storch, CEO of Storch Advisors told “The Final Round” in an interview.
“Consumers have a lot of cash. When you look at the consumer balance sheet, it’s very strong,” he added. “So we know September sales were not just good, they were very, very good. October sales will be off the charts because a lot of retailers have brought sales forward into October.”
October’s big shopping event was led by Amazon’s (AMZN) Prime Day, which ran October 13-14 with discounts on more than a million products. Meanwhile, other retailers joined in on the sale frenzy, offering deals of their own to better compete with the e-commerce giant.
Events like Prime Day likely pulled some holiday spending forward, compared to prior years. Recently, Salesforce forecasted the holiday shopping season will start early — with $6 billion of November’s Cyber Week volume in the U.S. and $26 billion globally to be pulled forward to the month of October.
Not shopping to ‘go out and look fancy’
For September, sales of clothing and accessories— which have been hard-hit by the stay-at-home trend sparked by coronavirus lockdowns — jumped 11% month-over-month, while electronics and appliances declined -1.6%.
Yet Storch doesn’t think this buying behavior is indicative of what we are going to see this year. Because similar to last holiday season, department stores continue to suffer because they’re using outdated business models and not adjusting to consumers’ shift in behavior nearly fast enough, Storch believes.
And on top of that, the pandemic has changed consumer preferences. While people are no longer dropping significant amounts of money on clothing, they are fixing up and decorating their home, or buying Apple’s new iPhone 12 models and other electronics.
“There was a lot of talk about how apparel numbers were better this month than last month, and they were in fact improved but they’re way down year-over-year. Same thing with department store sales,” the analyst told Yahoo Finance.
“I don’t think that’s where people’s heads are right now. They’re not spending to dress up and go out and look fancy. They’re going to spend on electronics. They’re going to spend on their homes,” he added.
“So it comes down to what happens in November and December. Frankly, I think it’s going to be very, very good,” he added.
“I think the consumer will be in a positive place past the election, once there’s some better news perhaps on vaccines and therapeutics. I think sales will be up 4% to 5% at least during the holiday season,” Storch added.
That’s significantly higher than many recent industry forecasts. CBRE Retail Research forecasts holiday retail sales to rise less than 2% this year, assuming we don’t see a significant uptick in coronavirus cases and store closures. Similarly, Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast predicts sales will climb between just 1% and 1.5%.
In terms of what retailers are positioned to benefit from the shift in where and how consumers shop, it’s the big retail names that have been gaining market share and leading the way for quite some time that are going to be the winners this holiday season.
“They’re going to keep spending at Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) and Costco (COST), where they can get everything in one place.. and they’re going to spend a lot,” Storch told Yahoo Finance.
Seana Smith is the anchor for The Final Round. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith