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WSU survey: Inflation eclipses pandemic as top concern of PNW holiday shoppers

The holiday shopping season doesn't have to be unsustainable.
Sean Gallup
Getty Images
The holiday shopping season doesn't have to be unsustainable.

For the sixth year in a row, Washington State University’s Carson College of Business surveyed more than a thousand people in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Researchers learned inflation and related concerns, such as high gas prices, are likely to be the biggest factors in shaping the holiday shopping season.

Julie Beckel Nelsen, an assistant professor of marketing at Carson, said those factors are prompting some shoppers to say they will spend less on gifts this year. In 2019, almost half of respondents said they planned to spend at least as much as they did the year before. This year, that figure is down to 39 percent.

“In addition, we’re finding that 32 percent are planning on spending less than they did last year. So that’s kind of interesting,” Nelsen said. “And what they’re telling us related to that, is that the increased price inflation is having the biggest impact on things.”

Nelsen said other factors driving the anticipated pullback on spending are supply chain issues, concerns about retail staffing, and the fact that some items are simply not in stock when it comes time to shop or order online.

81 percent of respondents said they plan to do at least some of their shopping online. But Nelsen said shoppers are making adjustments to get ahead of potential selection and shipping problems.

“There’s several different tactics they seem to be putting into play,” she said. “First, they’re starting to shop earlier, with the intent to be able to find those items that might be difficult to find in stores. They’re also doing some more local shopping, where they know that they can physically go into the store, or have it delivered, to be able to ensure that they can get what they want, when they want it.”

65 percent of respondents said not being able to count on items being in stock is the single biggest factor in their holiday shopping plans.

A little more than half said their shopping would be affected by the downsides of in-person retail, such as staffing shortages and large crowds.

And though Northwest shoppers say the pandemic is becoming a smaller concern, there is still a possibility that coronavirus, the flu, RSV or some combination of those viruses could still shape the holiday season.

“That’s always a possibility,” Nelsen said. “I think that those could definitely impact things, but what we found in the study is that people are comfortable shopping online.”

That comfortability like means people will still purchase gifts, even if they have to change their original shopping plans to do so.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.