Victorian Christmas Market

Holiday Spending Highlights U.S. Wealth Gap

With early holiday spending numbers somewhat up in the air right now, it’s likely that retailers will need to step up their game – in-store and online – if businesses hope to capitalize on a positive draft from Santa’s global travels.

According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers dropped an average of $407.02 from Thanksgiving night through the Sunday after Black Friday – less than the average of $423.55 per shopper last year.

The good news, says the Adobe Digital index, is that Cyber Monday sales data showed a 16 percent increase in online sales year-over-year.

So it’ll all probably even out, right?

Possibly. Of greater concern, experts worry, is what the disparity in holiday sales numbers may be saying about the growing divide between rich and poor in America, aka the Wealth Gap.

One strategist, commenting on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s current and recent policies, told CNBC that the Fed’s strategy isn’t having the kind of economic effect it was intended to have.

What you’ve seen is that (the wealth) gap has got bigger and bigger and bigger during the six years that we’ve had a Democrat presidentBob Janjuah, Nomura Strategist

Certain statistics, it seems, would bear out that view. According to Emmanuel Saez, a California economics professor:

  • The share of the country’s overall wealth for the richest 1 percent of citizens has reverted back to pre-Wall Street Crash levels.
  • As of the end of 2012, One Percenters had a stake in 50.4% of the U.S.’s wealth. That’s higher than any year since 1917, including 1928, the bubble year that precipitated the Great Crash of 1929.
  • Since the financial crisis of 2008, One Percenters have seen their incomes grow by 31.4%, while Ninety-Nine Percenters have seen their incomes rise by just 0.4%.

And this means…?

Back to our strategist. He believes that people with better access to capital have benefited more from the Fed’s policies.

The result? Disposable income becomes trickier to hold on to the lower you are in the financial pecking order.

“If you give people whose average net worth is $50 million another $1 million, they’re not going to spend it,” he says. “But if you give someone whose net worth is zero $5,000, they’ll tend to spend it.”

So, what does that mean for holiday sales?

While it’s still a little early to predict how tightly people will hang on to their cash, one strategist predicts that U.S. holiday sales will increase by about 1 to 2 percent this season. The numbers might even go negative.

The flip side?

“Travel to Palm Beach via private jet is quite popular this Christmas season,” he recently wrote in a research note.

Good cheer?

In such an uncertain and skewed environment, what can marketers do to ensure that their messages pleasantly pierce the economic noise?

One way is to pay attention to what the experts are telling consumers. Psychology Today offers these tips for people dealing with Wealth Gap-Itis – ideas that marketers would do well to observe, too:

  1. 1.

    Accept your fate

    And don’t blame yourself for being a victim. Try to adopt a positive attitude. And help yourself by taking a clear look at finances. Too many of us, PT says, drift into something called a Money Fog, where we pretend that understanding how to master our money is just too murky a subject. There are plenty of free resources out there to help you get on top of your money skills.

  2. 2.

    Give gifts that connect

    Starting with your time and attention to those people that matter in your life. Lending a hand can be just as memorable and heart-warming a gift as sending a gift card. Though, if you’d like to send the gift card and be nice, how awesome a person are you? And philanthropic giving – which can be as simple as giving to at least three people you know to be in need – can have a powerful transformational effect as you stare longingly up at those Palm Beach-flying One Percenters.

  3. 3.

    Reboot Your Affluence Intelligence Quotient

    The lower your AI quotient – which is simply how well you regulate your relationship with money – the more that Wealth Gap-Itis will affect you. Again, take some positive, incremental steps toward putting money in its proper perspective, and your AI setting will rise. And money won’t rule your life so much. OK, it might, but you’ll feel better about the whole deal. Which should translate to less stress. And who needs more holiday stress?

  4. 4.

    Get Into a Regenerative State

    No, not a cloning state of mind. Regenerative spending is the kind that helps you, your family and your community. Think of it as directing your money to where you live and play, but also in ways that contribute to growth and renewal. Those huge moneyed interests behind mega-entertainment enterprises won’t miss your dollars this season. But that smaller non-profit with the amazing performers and the visiting foreign artist might just make it over the hump this year with help from you and others like you. It’s more than shopping locally. It’s investing in your community – with money, time and attention.

  5. 5.

    Cease Comparing

    A kid on a bus was once heard bragging to his dad about how he’d handled a rough customer who’d crossed him on the playground. Dad, unimpressed, said, “No matter how bad you think you are, there’s always somebody badder than you.” Same goes for any comparisons monetarily – up or down that ladder.

So if there’s one marketing message this holiday season, as regards the Wealth Gap: Don’t confuse human worth with monetary worth. Especially when it comes to crafting holiday sales pitches.

C’mon. Did you learn nothing from A Christmas Carol?

Image via North Devon Council / CC BY 2.0

Pierce Mattie

Pierce Mattie is a full-service marketing agency that interacts with consumers and key stakeholders at every stage of the journey. With a focus in beauty, health and wellness, we are immersed in the marketing landscape, able to powerfully communicate a brand’s point of difference to acquire and maintaining customers. The content team is obsessed with what's trending in the digital world, and how it intersects with consumer behavior. We are passionate about the changing landscape of the world, including how emergent technologies affect brand attachment, how diversity and inclusivity are critical to success, and where humans fit into the equation.

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