Household Spending: Discipline Evident in Retail Trends

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Save here. Spend there. That’s the ongoing pattern in the latest retail sales numbers. It suggests a disciplined approach to household budgets remains the rule—even when households might be able to afford more.

Households continue to spend at a relatively weak-to-modest pace at retail overall (see the topline measures in the table summary below). But that hides healthy spending within retail and outside of retail.

  • Within retail, the favored places among retail store types include: online, drug stores, home improvement stores, furniture stores, and specialty stores (e.g. sporting goods, hobby, etc).
  • The relatively weak spending is focused at mass or big-box stores (e.g., Walmart) and grocery stores. This weak spending partly reflects households capitalizing on flat or falling prices at those stores—especially in grocery categories—to save money to spend elsewhere.
  • Outside of retail stores, households continue to favor spending on automobiles and eating out—as well as on services such as healthcare, entertainment, and travel-related categories beyond food services.
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Impact @Work: The persisting weakness at big-box mass retailers and grocery stores is evidence of the tough price competition that will weigh on store retailers this holiday. A key to good holiday performance will be to use promotions strategically to boost demand, without being overly aggressive. For more, see the holiday outlook post at this link.

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Impact @Home: Take advantage of the price deals that will be found through the holidays. The best deals likely will be found in stores and at retailers that have not been performing well. The big-box stores top the list, such as Walmart, Target, and traditional department stores such as Macy’s. It may be a good time to look for stock-up opportunities for next year before price pressures pick up.

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