Splurge or save? Holiday spending may hinge on how you vote

Lee Rhodes
Lee Rhodes, owner of Glassybaby, poses near votive candle holders on display at her shop in Seattle.
(Associated Press)

 A divisive election that left half the country deflated and the other half rejuvenated could reverberate through the holiday shopping season in the kind of gifts people are giving or how much they spend.

Some retailers say they have seen a surge in feel-good items such as spa treatments, candles and comfort food, while executives at some major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Macy’s have said there’s no discernible shift in consumer behavior since the presidential election won by Republican Donald Trump.

The divide in the outlook may reflect the rift in the election, as Americans split along geographic lines as well as by income.

“I don’t need a comfort dog. I don’t need anybody to feel sorry for me,” said Rhondi Bleeker, 50, of Totowa, New Jersey. “I’m actually happy because I was for Trump.”


Bleeker, who owns an eyelash extension business, believes the economy will be better now. She says she’ll still be spending the same $3,000 as she does every holiday season, but she believes her business could do even better because, whether people are sad or happy, most will want retail therapy.

Some shoppers say they plan to divert money from traditional gifts like sweaters to donations to charity groups in their friends’ or relatives’ names.

Ryan Holmes of Chicago, who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, said he plans to devote at least one-quarter of the $750 he typically spends on holiday gifts to doing that. Even for gifts like music or books, he says he can’t help but feel he might make a political statement such as giving a book on climate change to educate a friend.

“I am frightened to what’s to come, and sad and less hopeful,” said Holmes, 34, an urban planning and real estate consultant. But he added, “I’m feeling more engaged.”


Shoppers have generally been moving away from buying “stuff” and more towards spending on experiences. Factors from the weather to when Thanksgiving falls already affect how stores fare at the holidays, and retailers from department stores to discounters are under intense pressure from online sellers to offer low prices and convenience.

A dip in buying before a presidential election is normal as people are distracted, but spending usually bounces back afterward.

States that voted Democratic have seen the biggest drops since the election, analysts say. “We are in uncharted territory,” said Gerald Storch, the CEO of Hudson’s Bay Co., which operates department stores under that name, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The divide could play into the hands of retailers who customize goods to cater to increasingly fragmented tastes.

Peter Gold, chief marketing officer at Market America’s online marketplace, says since late October he’s seen a sales surge in spa products, candles, and comfort food that he expects will continue through the holidays.


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