Written by Al Krulick, Editor in Chief for Business View Magazine
Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 42 million working Americans, and contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP. Retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy, and, right now, the barometer is reading high and the weather is good, with sunny skies attributable to a healthy economy, low unemployment, and strong consumer confidence. The numbers tell the story, and numbers never lie.
During the recent biggest shopping “weekend” of the year – the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday – some 165 million Americans went on a shopping spree, both in stores and online. And there are still several more shopping weeks left before Christmas, when the county’s buying public will end up spending roughly between $717 and $721 billion – approximately 20 percent of the year’s total retail sales – on goods and gifts.
The software company, Adobe, determined that U.S. consumers spent $3.7 billion online on Thanksgiving, and another $6.2 billion on Black Friday, with $2.1 billion of those Black Friday online sales made on smartphones. The most popular items included laptops, streaming devices, video games, and toys. Research from software company, Salesforce, shows that consumers actually shopped online all week—with purchases hitting their peak after Thanksgiving dinner—as mobile use began increasing after 4 p.m.in each time zone and hit its high between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average shopper spent $313.29 over the five-day period. The biggest spenders were older Millennials and Gen Xers (35-44 years old) at $413.05. Gen Zers and younger Millennials (aged 18-24) spent an average $149 on holiday purchases for themselves, more than any other generation. Their top purchases over the weekend included apparel, toys, books and video games, electronics, and gift cards.
Another reason for the good numbers: the dynamic nature of the retail industry and the investments in technology made by the retailers in order to make shopping as quick and simple as possible. For example, this year marks the first time Macy’s will have mobile checkout at all of its stores. The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta also are equipping employees at most locations with devices to check out customers on the spot. And at Wal-Mart, a digital map within the store app will pinpoint the exact location where a customer can find whatever he or she is looking for.
Such shortcuts are critical. For example, a survey by the consultancy company, Deloitte, found that 27 percent of those polled would rather tap into alternate checkout options — like using a smartphone to scan and pay for a purchase as they shop, or buying online and then picking the gift up at a store — in order to skip long checkout lines.
As we continue to celebrate – and buy – during the rest of the holiday season, it’s interesting to note that in contrast to the 165 million of us who shopped over Thanksgiving, only 113 million Americans made it to the polls this past Election Day, or mailed in their ballots, or voted early. That’s 52 million U.S. citizens who, for whatever reason, found it too difficult to exercise their franchise – perhaps because they didn’t want to wait on a long line?
So, here’s a thought: What if voting could be made as quick and simple as making an online or smartphone purchase? What if a click or a swipe could serve as an “alternate checkout option,” so that tens of millions of American consumers, who, arguably, may not have the time or inclination to vote, would do so if only it were made easier? Perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to follow the lead of the modern retail industry and develop some hi-tech shortcuts. The technology is available and it seems to be working well for them. After all, the numbers never lie.