The holiday season is the peak time for the retail industry but this year has come with some unique challenges. Eric Douglas spoke with Bridget Lambert, the president of the West Virginia Retailers Association, to find out how things were going for Mountain State retailers.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: Let’s talk about the holiday season for retailers in West Virginia. How’s it going so far?
Lambert: This season, as you know, we went into it with a little trepidation, because I don’t think we knew exactly what to expect with all the changes we’ve seen this past couple of years during the holidays. It’s been a very strong season for retailers in our state and across the country. We also saw them wading through supply industry issues that we have not seen previously. It’s been unprecedented. However, our industry seems to be ever-evolving. So they responded as best they could. And we’ve seen a very strong shopping season this holiday so far.
Douglas: Is there any one sector that’s stronger than another? Or is it just kind of across the board.
Lambert: It’s across the board, as it usually is. When people are shopping for the holidays they shop for everyone — from their elderly relatives to the youngest people in their family. So everyone has different and varied interests, and we’re seeing that play out. Black Friday seemed to take precedence over the other four days and it outpaced Small Business Saturday, actually.
We saw a slight decrease on Cyber Monday this year. As you can imagine Cyber Monday was always a growing trend as people started shopping online. And I think industry representatives have alluded to the fact that people have become very accustomed to shopping online now in ways that they didn’t previously. So Cyber Monday was not the big bang it usually is for consumers.
Douglas: I’ve heard some speculation nationally, that part of the reason for that might be the supply chain issues, that people were worried about not being able to get things online or being sold out online. So they were shopping directly. Have you heard anything to that effect?
Lambert: There’s a two-fold answer to that question. Foot traffic in the stores was very heavy this weekend. We saw people come out. We think people want to be out shopping, they want that interaction with other consumers and the retailers. They want to see the merchandise that they’re purchasing, they want to feel it and check it out.
The other thing is, yes, people are aware that we were having some industry supply chain issues. About 84 percent of shoppers have disclosed that they started shopping early this season all the way back even in October, and about 52 percent of shoppers have not completed their holiday shopping this year.
Douglas: What are some of the challenges facing retailers in general and especially for the holiday season?
Lambert: Any challenges we may be facing are the ones we’re hearing about. Retailers have prepared. They’ve got a lot of stock in their stock rooms, they’re doing the curbside pickup, the items are already in the store when you order online for same day pickup. So we’ve done a lot to prepare in the industry for the supply chain issues that we’re dealing with. However, people do need to continue to be diligent with what they want. Shop locally in stores. If one doesn’t have it, look at the others. And that’s really a consumer concern.
One of the other issues retailers have been dealing with, of course, is labor issues. We have a lot of signs in our windows asking for employees. And so we are definitely hiring this holiday season that continues, and will be for several more weeks. Labor shortages and supply chain issues are the two things that our members have been most concerned about, but I think that they adapted as best they could. And savvy shoppers will have the ability to get the items they need this year.
Douglas: Have you or any of your retailers in the association seen any of these direct supply and supply chain issues that they just can’t get some of the things that they were expecting to have?
Lambert: Some of the retailers that I represent are the retailers who have lots of merchandise sitting off the coast of California on a cargo ship. Are we seeing consumer complaints to a huge level about that in our stores? No, we’re not. As I said our retailers have, and are, looking at different ways or different shifts in the supply chain. Many of them recently had a meeting at the White House with President (Joe) Biden to discuss the supply chain issues that are occurring, and to find solutions to get this backlog released so we can just go on to business as usual once we get to 2022. But, it’s a work in progress. I don’t think anyone has a magic bullet for the solution at the moment.
Douglas: How is inflation affecting retailers in this state?
Lambert: Inflation is impacting our industry as most industries. However, during the shopping season, our state is always very family-oriented. And inflation a lot of times does not seem to impact West Virginia’s holiday shoppers. We’re not seeing a huge impact. If you look at the number of customers shopping over this past holiday weekend, we’re having a very strong holiday season. I think that’s the proof of where retail is at this point.
Douglas: I saw nationally the other day that they were predicting that people would be spending between 8.5 and 10.5 percent more this year than in previous years.
Lambert: Yes, the retail industry is projecting sales this holiday season nationally between 8.5 and 10.5 percent over spending in 2020. The last five year averages or so we average between 5 and 8 percent. As recently as just yesterday, our retail industry and all of the surveys they’ve taken, we are exactly on those numbers. We are on trend.