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Politics, Tariffs And A Late Thanksgiving Could Put A Damper On Holiday Sales

Joey Kennedy
Handmade Arcade
Shoppers abound at the Handmade Arcade craft fair in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in 2017.

The National Retail Federation reports holiday sales this season will grow between 3.8 and 4.2 percent. That’s up slightly compared to average holiday sales increases of about 3.7 percent over the previous five years. 

But Nicole Coleman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Pittsburgh, has a slightly less rosy forecast. 

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the broader geopolitical space, as well as tariffs getting rolled out. Some are due to hit on Dec. 15,” Coleman said.

She cites the impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals might cast a pall over the holiday season. And if political uncertainty weren't enough, the calendar is short: shoppers have only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas to snag their seasonal wares.

“I would expect to see an increase, because things are solid and there are good fundamentals," she said, "but probably in the 2-3 percent range rather than the 5-7 percent range in some forecasts.”

The holiday shopping season is especially important for small, local retailers. Coleman said while they can’t compete on price with Amazon and Walmart, they can offer shoppers something more personal.

“They have the ability to put unique, difficult to find products in front of consumers, and they also have the sales people to help the shopper find the right product,” Coleman said.

She also noted that younger consumers are more likely to purchase experiences, like a gift certificate to a spa, as well as sustainable gifts.

“The product is more than just a thing. It enriches you in some way, shape or form.  There is a meaningfulness to the product,” she said.

Small Business Saturday, which encourages shoppers to buy local, falls this year on Nov. 30.

90.5 WESA's Kiley Koscinski contributed to this report.

Read more Pittsburgh Business Report stories here