Last call for alcohol.
The party’s almost over.
I’ve been watching that chart like a hawk. The black line surging past the pink one in March was a major turning point in the COVID economy. People who kept their jobs and income through the first year of the pandemic stockpiled cash. Then the second stimulus checks came along, then child tax credit payments, all while wages crept up in a frothy job market. That doesn’t include money people made betting on crypto or unloading sports collectibles.
It explains why household spending has remained strong, even as inflation, gas prices, and supply chain fears drove consumer confidence into a precipitous slide. But, as that pink line climbs up and to the right, all good things must come to an end.
Just not yet.
The glow will last through the holidays, despite another pesky cold weather surge of COVID above the Mason-Dixon line. Retail spending will boom, higher costs of goods be damned, particularly since people got a big head start. Just don’t be surprised if it takes bigger credit card balances to cross the finish line.
After that, I’m not so sure. Fuel prices are going to wreak havoc on home heating costs. Sixty-four percent of Americans with student loans are concerned about payments returning in January. Not to mention Christmas credit card bills.
It won’t be all bad. For one, young people will have to go back to work when their short-term nest eggs dwindle, alleviating pressure on the service industry.
I’m also betting big on a “return to health” – New Year’s resolutions on steroids – across the country in Q1. All the excess drinking and weight-gaining we’ve done over the past two years has to end eventually. I thought it would happen last summer, when people started getting vaccinated and going to crowded beaches in bathing suits again.
But no. People splurged all summer, because they could. And they still are.
Things will be different in January.
For now, though, enjoy a much-needed Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever you celebrate with vaccinated family and friends. Eat, drink, shop (local), and be merry. Get your flu shots and COVID boosters and hang your holiday decorations.
Me, I’ll be taking off next weekend from writing.
And who knows? I could be wrong about all of this.
There’s a first time for everything.
Here’s what we’re seeing:
Interest in sports is approaching pre-pandemic levels. This took longer than most people expected but sports fans are finally returning home to roost, 18 months after every league and venue shut down. All it took was a baseball postseason with all the big market teams and the return of fans to NFL stadiums. Another notable finding in this study is the rise in fan interest for women’s professional soccer and basketball. That’s cool. Not to pile on to my “Q1 is going to be depressing” rant, but one thing you can tell from the chart below is sports fandom does tend to fall after the 4th quarter (post-Super Bowl).
Mental health issues are highest among parents of school-age children. Just because this makes all sorts of sense doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. U.S. adults with kids between the ages of 5 and 18 are 40% more likely than the general population to say that they are dealing with a mental health concern in their family. This concern is correlating with tons of other trends – like increases in social media usage, streaming content consumption, and even between-meal snacking. Let’s hope the Q1 health kick I’m hoping for is as much about mental health as physical health.
Shapewear is making a big comeback and it makes people happy. As people started getting dressed up again for work and normal social outings – after a year of pandemic-borne bodily changes – shapewear saw a noticeable revival among American women. The Kardashian-peddled Skims brand bursting onto the scene certainly helped the category. It’s particularly popular among women in professional or management jobs and heavy users of Instagram. The thing that caught my eye the most was the chart below – shapewear wearers are happy. Whether it’s causation or just correlation is unclear.
More people need to support Small Business Saturday. Sixteen percent of U.S. adults say they are very likely to shop on Small Business Saturday this year (i.e. the Saturday after Black Friday) and another 29% are somewhat likely. The very likely group skews age 25-54. They’re also significantly more likely to drink oat milk and I have no idea why. All I know is that we all need to support small businesses.
The mix of holiday travelers this year will be different than ever before. Fifty-seven percent of Americans never travel for the holidays, so that isn’t changing. Eighteen percent usually travel and fully plan to do so this year. The remaining group is an interesting mix. About half are people who say they DON’T usually travel but DO plan to this year. The other half are people who say they usually DO travel but WON’T this year. For the newly-non-travelers, money and mental health are factors. They’re 38% more likely than regular travelers to be worse off financially since COVID and 44% more likely to be dealing with mental health concerns in their families. The new travelers are less cautious about COVID and psyched to see family and friends again.
Brands and media properties have become badges of our identity. In a cell-phone-in-our-pockets, posting-everything-on-social-media world, people are increasingly identified by their consumer choices, whether they like it or not. I talked with Morgan Flatley, the Global CMO of McDonald’s, about this and a lot of other important (and silly things) on my podcast this week. Check it out.
More Studies This Week:
- Speaking of podcasts – podcast listeners aren’t big on reading books;
- Rising incomes aren’t enough to alleviate high prices for a lot of consumers;
- Here are the most popular new-release games – by console – going into the holidays;
- Parents are increasingly okay with kids under 13 having social media accounts.
The Popular Questions of the Week
- How important is it for you to understand what’s happening in pop culture at any given time?
- When was the last time you ate pizza with utensils?
- How often, if ever, do you wake up feeling energized?
- What is the best kind of pie to have after Thanksgiving dinner?
- If you had to choose, would you rather have only mugs to drink out of in your kitchen, or no mugs at all?
- Are you a fan of Brussels sprouts?
Answer Key: It’s my job; The last time I was in Chicago; I can’t remember; Pumpkin; Mugs – who comes up with these questions?; Love them.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.