Economic concerns weigh on Baltimore-area consumers heading into holidays

At the Skowrunski household this Christmas, the typically overflowing piles of presents will be far less eye-popping than in years past.

“This Christmas is going to be probably the smallest that we’ve had in a long time because of all the prices going up,” said Samm Skowrunski, a Glen Burnie mother of two who is expecting a third. “We’re still going to do what we can, of course. But it’s not going to be as huge as it normally is, for sure.”


Skowrunski, who is self-employed as a pet-sitter and seller of Scentsy wax warmers, said she and her husband decided to cut back on the number of gifts for their 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter because of inflation.

Samm Skowrunski, with her daughter, Saphira, and son, Ryder enjoy Marley Station Mall the week before Thanksgiving.

It’s a common concern for consumers this year heading into the holiday buying season, typically the busiest time of year for retailers.


Inflation, supply chain constraints and a potential recession are top concerns for shoppers this year, said Donna Hoffman, a professor of marketing and co-director of the Center for the Connected Consumer at the George Washington University School of Business.

“Consumers might be worried about rising prices and try to shop early,” to hedge their bets, Hoffman said. “Supply chain problems might mean it will also be hard to get items later, and those prices might go up as well.”

With such economic concerns weighing on people’s minds, many retailers raced to snag shoppers early, kicking off Black Friday promotions in stores and online as early as October. Amazon, Target and Walmart began rolling out holiday deals last month, including an Amazon two-day Prime event in early October.

In the Baltimore region, Black Friday “early access” sales were in full swing last Friday at Macy’s, a week before the actual Black Friday on the day after Thanksgiving. Deep discounts — as much as 75% — were offered on jewelry as part of Black Friday clearance sales, while the department store retailer promoted storewide savings of 20% to 50%.

Devonne Jackson and her mother Carla Jackson went looking for early Black Friday deals on jewelry the week before Thanksgiving at Marley Station Mall.

Similar deals were offered at JCPenney, and Baltimore resident Devonne Jackson and her mother Carla Jackson headed to the Marley Station mall location Friday to take advantage of early Black Friday jewelry specials.

“I still want to shop,” Jackson said. “We always find a way to buy what we want. Even though prices are going up. ... Normally we look for sales.”

More than half of consumers surveyed by Slickdeals, a Las Vegas-based online deal and coupon sharing community, said inflation is their biggest concern when it comes to holiday shopping this year. The survey, which focused on consumers who have shopped Black Friday in the past, found that 46% said they are trying to spend less during holiday sales because of fears of recession.

Even so, about three-quarters said they planned to shop during a holiday sale, and more than a third, 37%, said they have no plans to cut spending this year.


“There’s a good chunk of people that despite the concerns about a recession and inflation are still planning to shop just as much as they did in years past,” said Pete King, a deal expert with Slickdeals.

That may be because “Black Friday has become a tradition for a lot of people, and people also use it as a means to get the best deals for the holidays,” he said. “Prices are higher most of the rest of the year. People are thinking, we could be getting the best prices right now, so why don’t we do it now.”

The survey found that 28% of shoppers plan to do most shopping online, while 26% said they would do most of their shopping wherever they find the best deals.

About 166 million people are expected to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year, according to a survey released Nov. 17 by the National Retail Federation. That estimate is nearly eight million more people than last year.

Total holiday sales during November and December are expected to increase 6% to 8% over last year, to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion, the retail group said earlier this month. Last year’s holiday sales shattered previous records, jumping 13.5%. Spending during the pandemic in recent years has contributed to gains, the retail federation said.

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”While there is much speculation about inflation’s impact on consumer behavior, our data tells us that this Thanksgiving holiday weekend will see robust store traffic with a record number of shoppers taking advantage of value pricing,” said Matthew Shay, the retail group’s president and CEO, in an announcement of the Nov. 17 survey results.


But Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry adviser for the research firm NPD, said in a report Monday that he expects Black Friday sales revenue to fall short.

“Store traffic will be up from last year, but it will be more shopping than buying,” Cohen said.

And online sales already are leveling off, he said. He cited a lack of new product offerings, promotion fatigue from early promotions and the rising cost of living as hurdles for the industry this year.

Karen Harwood, for one, won’t be heading to the stores on Black Friday. That was one tradition the Pasadena resident and her adult daughter gave up during the pandemic and have no plans to resume.

She already has started buying presents for her grandchildren, but mostly online and scaled back from previous years, she said.

“I’m decreasing the amount I’m spending, and I’m waiting for sales,” said Harwood, who works part-time handling emergency room charts at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Anne Arundel County. “You have to.”