American Express and the research company Technomic released a study today that should fill Internet and brick-and-mortar retailers alike with Christmas cheer. The survey of a nationally representative sample of 500 consumers depicts a populace with buoyed financial spirits. More than 40% of those polled described themselves as “living comfortably” or “very well off” versus only 34% who described themselves that way last November and 21% in pre-holiday 2012. “The fact that more families are feeling financially comfortable indicates that their mood is likely to be more celebratory throughout the year-end holidays,” says Mary Chapman, senior director of product information at Technomic. “Prospects are bright for good December sales in retail stores.”
Some 13% of consumers (versus 21% last November) told Technomic that they were “struggling financially” and 45%—the largest segment of those polled—described themselves as “getting by.” So while it’s possible that a greater number of financially secure shoppers could lift holiday sales, it’s equally possible that a less secure 58% could cut spending further and offset an increase.
That appears to be the call made by the Commerce Department in its October consumer spending report released yesterday. Despite increases in jobs and decreases in gasoline prices, personal spending rose only 0.2% over September, a sign that the Commerce Department interprets as consumers being cautious with their expendable income heading into the holidays.