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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 14, 2015 • Issue 15:12:01

Analysts predict healthy holiday spend

Positive economic indicators and general consumer optimism created a festive mood among retailers and payment professionals in anticipation of the 2015 holiday season now underway. Retailers launched early, omnichannel Black Friday promotions. And bellwether reports from the National Retail Federation and First Data Corp. indicate consumer spending in 2015 may be nearing prerecession levels.

Gift cards gain traction

The First Data 2015 Prepaid Consumer Insights Report noted an uptick in consumer spending on physical and electronic closed-loop gift cards over the past 12 months. The company reported that 64 percent of consumers would prefer to receive a gift card than any other type of gift or incentive.

"First Data has seen an uplift in prepaid gift cards across all merchant segments, from the largest retailers to corner store small midsize businesses," said Euphemia L. B. Erikson, Director of Client Solutions, Network and Security Solutions at First Data Corp. "Clients are more knowledgeable about gift cards and can choose card, app or POS-based gift card solutions to increase foot traffic and create greater connections with their brands."

Erikson noted five reasons for gift cards' increasing popularity among retailers and consumers. The cards:

  1. Generate revenue: Consumers redeeming gift cards spend, on average, $23 more than the original value of the gift card they receive, driving more incremental store revenue.
  2. Differentiate the company: An array of gift card designs can help a business stand out from its competitors and deepen ties between customers and brand.
  3. Drive additional foot traffic: Consumers with gift cards return to a business an average of three times per gift card. Each store visit provides another opportunity to promote complementary products and sale items.
  4. Acquire new customers: More than 80 percent of consumers have given or received a gift card in the last 12 months. Many shoppers have not even visited a particular retailer but know that it would be a good place for a specific gift card recipient to shop. For this reason, gift cards can be a way to recommend and promote a merchant and brand.
  5. Reduce fraud: Most gift card programs and marketplace apps incorporate real-time authorization for gift card transactions and incorporate secure processing at the POS or in-app. These security measures help eliminate the fraud associated with paper certificates.

Virtual Black Friday

The NRF's Consumer Holiday Spending Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, revealed that 56.6 percent of consumers had already begun holiday shopping by early November 2015, up from 54.4 percent in 2014.

"There is a real sea change happening in retail when it comes to the how, when, where and why of holiday shopping," said Matthew Shay, NRF President and Chief Executive Officer. "Consumers today are looking for great prices and value-add promotions earlier than ever before, and retailers have answered these demands in several different ways already this holiday season."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stated that approximately 96 percent of its Black Friday discounts will be accessible on the store's website on Thanksgiving morning and in stores starting at 6 p.m. that day. Target Corp. is previewing an array of Black Friday deals to enable shoppers to pre-plan their extreme shopping strategies. "Customers today are bombarded with different messages and different offers," said Steve Bratspies, Chief Merchandising Officer for Wal-Mart's U.S. stores. "We're moving to one event to make shopping easier."

High expectations, low anxiety

Behavioral finance scientist Dr. Dan Geller, author of Money Anxiety, has been studying the effect of money anxiety on consumer financial behaviors. His book explores the causes of people's financial decision-making and risk tolerances, and why they generally hate to lose more than they love to win. His findings link consumers' financial anxiety to the state of the economy. "When the level of money anxiety is up, the economy is down; and when money anxiety is down, the economy is up," he wrote.

Geller also manages the Money Anxiety Index, an online resource that measures the level of consumers' financial worry and stress based on their spending and savings. Since its inception, the index has fluctuated from a low of 38.7 in the mid 1960s to a high of 135.3 during the recession of the early 1980s.

The November 2015 index of 62.5 is consistent with prerecession anxiety levels, which began to rise at the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007 and continued to climb as the recession deepened. Anxiety levels peaked at 95.5 in December 2010 and have gradually declined amid improving economic conditions. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary found that 271,000 jobs were added to construction, professional services, education, hospitality and healthcare in October. Retailers expect these positive indicators to stimulate holiday sales. end of article

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