Hearing news commentators repeatedly report that Christmas sales were going to be down during the holidays set many shoppers on a scavenger hunt trajectory vs. their normal holiday shopping ritual. To our family, this meant that the post Christmas sales would be significant because we knew we would get more bang for our buck at this crucial time. We waited to buy many of our gift items until after Christmas. We also used gift checks to let the recipient find the truly outstanding deal. For most families, money was dribbled out instead of being shoveled out. Shopping in many malls became an outing for food and sightseeing more than an occasion for serious purchases.
Experts reported that retail purchases, excluding automobiles and gas, fell dramatically this holiday season. Specifically, women’s apparel sales were down 23% this year vs. last. Men’s apparel was down 14%, and electronics and appliances dropped 27%. These losses are actually worse than they sound because retailers had already slashed prices to unhealthy levels before Christmas. When you are giving the products away, you can’t make it up on volume.
Dan Butler of the National Retail Federation told Jayne O’ Donnell of USATODAY, “Consumers had a reawakening… voting with their dollars now.” It seems that a fundamental shift in consumer behavior is occurring. A Consumer Reports National Research Center survey projects that 22% will pay off debt in March or later. Last year 31% of the public paid off their bills in March or later. This means most of us are not going to get out on a debt limb. The average consumer seems to be settling in for a long economic fight. Unfortunately, a “bunker mentality” will make our recession longer and recovery harder.
Many can’t help thinking about their 401(k)s which have dropped by 45%. Charles Schwab makes the clearest articulation of what most folks feel. “To be a successful investor you have to have the component for optimism. You have to believe in the innovation of the human mind and the human spirit. That is what investing is all about---frankly, being a part of companies that create new value. And that will continue to be true. But we go through these undulations in the process of discovery.
The bottom line---you have to be somewhat optimistic and know that the future will be better than the past.”
In light of Schwab's statement, we can deduce that the media should begin to report strategies for small business turnarounds and stories of jobs being saved. They need to encourage us by doing profiles on optimistic business leaders who have made things happen. We want to hear about people who represent the American spirit by being in the trenches, creatively finding ways to enjoy life in spite of the economic setbacks. Once President-elect Obama takes his seat, his early steps will be important.
I am sure that America’s economy will rise again. Our optimism will be key in helping us regain our groove. Change experts say that celebrating early victories is often an important part of building unity and momentum. The media helped get us into this mess. Now we need them to help Mr. Obama and his administration get us out!
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.