As we enter the holiday shopping season, the challenges facing consumers and retailers look quite different from 2021, so how will inflation and high inventory impact profit margins?
-- Transcript --
Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michelle Weaver from the Morgan Stanley's U.S. Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll discuss our outlook for holiday spending in the U.S. It's Friday, November 25th, at 1 p.m. in New York.
With the holiday shopping season just around the corner, we collaborated with the Morgan Stanley U.S. economics team and several of the consumer teams, namely airlines, consumer goods, e-commerce and electronics, to analyze our consumer survey data around holiday spending. The big takeaway is that this year's holiday shopping season is going to be quite different from the one we had last year.
In 2021, we saw major supply chain malfunctions that impacted inventories and caused shoppers to start buying much earlier in the season. Limited supplies also gave companies a lot of pricing power, and this year the situation looks like it is shaping up to be the exact opposite. High inventory levels should push stores to offer discounts as they attempt to clear merchandise off shelves. Companies offering the biggest discounts will be able to grab the largest wallet share, but this will likely be a hit to their profit margins.
Additionally, inflation has weighed heavily on consumers throughout the year, and it remains their number one concern heading into the holiday shopping season. This year, we're likely to see a very bargain savvy consumer. Our survey showed that 70% of shoppers are waiting for stores to offer discounts before they begin their holiday shopping, and the majority are waiting to see deals in excess of 20%. Additionally, consumers are likely to be more price sensitive this year. About a third of consumers said they would buy a lot less gifts and holiday products if stores raise prices.
U.S. consumers are largely expecting to spend about the same amount on holiday gifts and products this year versus last year. So retailers will be competing for a similarly sized pool of revenue as last year, and will have to offer competitive prices to get shoppers to choose their products. This creates a really tough environment for profit margins.
We also asked consumers specifically if they are planning to spend more or less this year in a variety of popular gift areas. The biggest spending declines are expected for luxury gifts, sports equipment, home and kitchen and electronics, all areas where we saw overconsumption during lockdown.
Looking at the industry implications, services are expected to hold up better than goods overall. Department stores and specialty retailers, consumer durable goods, large volume retailers and tech hardware are all likely to face a more challenging season. On the other hand, demand for travel and flights remains very strong, and the Morgan Stanley transportation team remains bullish on the U.S. airlines overall, as they believe travel interest remains resilient despite consumer and macro fears.
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