Holiday Central

Shoppers cut back their spending in days after the election

Retailers were waiting with bated breath for election season to end, assuming consumers would be less distracted and more confident once they heard the results.

Yet data from Adobe Digital Insights shows that instead of loosening their purse strings after the votes were counted, online shoppers dramatically cut back their spending.

After plodding along roughly in line with last year's levels, the number of visitors to major retailer's websites dipped 4.6 percent year-over-year the day of the election, according Adobe Digital Insights. One day after, traffic was down 10 percent, according to the group, whose data measures 80 percent of all transactions from the top 100 U.S. retailers.

The post-election traffic dip resulted in $800 million of lost sales from Nov. 1 and Nov. 14, with the sharpest drop coming after the election. Sales growth after the votes were counted slowed to only 1.35 percent, despite factoring in the Veteran's Day and Singles' Day sales events, according to the data. That compares with 2.33 percent growth the first eight days of November, which includes a 3.77 percent drop on election day.

The states that weighed most heavily on spending were New York, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington — all of which gave their electoral votes to Hillary Clinton.

Although those weeks account for less than 1 percent of the season, Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, doesn't expect retailers to recover the sales that were lost — even as spending has since jumped back in line with the firm's forecast. That's because people run out of time, and gift recipients who were at the bottom of their shopping lists end up falling off.

"The reality is that we've lost about one day of spending," Gaffney said. "I don't think that retailers will make it up."

Gaffney said she will be closely monitoring retailers' Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales results, after which she may need to revise the firm's spending forecast. While Adobe Digital Insights is currently calling for 11 percent online sales growth this holiday season, that may need to be walked back to single-digit growth, Gaffney said.

"I didn't realize we would have this level of concern going into Veteran's Day," she said.

Adobe's data stands in contrast to what major retail chains have been reporting with their third-quarter earnings releases. Companies including Wal-Mart and Target issued positive fourth-quarter guidance, while Macy's and Kohl's management teams also spoke optimistically about the holidays.

"Our experience over a long period of time is things that are distracting like the election, once there's an outcome, certainty is a good thing. So from a positive perspective, having certainty on that is probably a good thing looking into the holiday," Kohl's CEO Kevin Mansell told analysts on the firm's earnings call.

Sales leading up to the election also performed better than many had expected, with retail sales notching an 0.8 percent gain in October, according to the Commerce Department.

Yet Adobe isn't the only third party seeing evidence of a pullback in consumer spending. RetailNext, which gets its data from more than 300 clients with bricks-and-mortar stores, said the average transaction value and number of purchases fell after the election.

Whereas total net sales were 11.8 percent lower Nov. 1 to Nov. 6, they dropped 20.3 percent from Nov. 9 to 13. While traffic ticked only slightly lower, the average value of each transaction, as well as the total number of transactions, dropped more substantially.

Yet Shelley E. Kohan, vice president of retail consulting at RetailNext, said she remains confident that sales will bounce back and end up growing 3.2 percent in November and December. However, sales in areas filled with protesters, such as New York City's Fifth Avenue, could underperform, she said.

Cowen and Company analyst Oliver Chen said earlier this week that protests outside of Trump Tower could weigh on Tiffany's holiday sales, as its flagship location accounts for roughly 10 percent of its total revenue. Other analysts were less concerned about the impact of the protests, with Jefferies analyst Randal Konik telling investors that concerns are overblown.

"We view any Trump protest issues as transitory," Konik said.

More broadly speaking, the wave of cool temperatures seen rushing in for the critical Black Friday shopping week is expected to spur demand. That should help drive comparisons higher compared with last year, when unseasonably warm weather cut into retailers' top and bottom lines.

"I do think people want to celebrate the holidays," Kohan said.