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With less than two months to go until the 2016 presidential election it is as if the circus has come to town. Regardless of your political affiliation, there is no denying that this presidential election year is unlike any in recent history. Presidential elections typically distract consumers and less of their attention is paid to spending, but this year the distraction is likely going to be bigger than ever. 

While elections are one of the many factors that can impact retail sales, looking at the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Retail Trade Report for 1992 through 2014, there is evidence of some spending shifts in election years and the first year of a new presidency. Retail spending growth slowed from 9 percent to 6 percent in 2000, and then to 3 percent when George W. Bush took office in 2001, according to the report. Spending began a decline in 2008 and continued into 2009 when Barack Obama became president. The excitement, uncertainty, and general fanfare around U.S. presidential elections are generally the cause for consumer distraction.

My opinion is that the distraction caused by this year’s presidential election will be felt by retailers big and small. The debates alone will cause a disruption in spending, as people tune-in and shift their focus from some of their usual behavior to the debates. Some of the resulting sales loss will be made up, but it will be difficult to recover valuable impulse purchases. The loss of impulse spending during a presidential election is significant for the U.S. apparel industry since unplanned purchases account for 29 percent of annual dollar sales*. 

The question is will the eight weeks of the holiday shopping season be enough opportunity to recapture the losses from election distraction? The answer is that holiday shopping is enough of a distraction to recapture consumer attention, but retailers will need to work at it. They’ll need to merchandise innovative products, offer meaningful promotions, and spread out stock replenishments throughout the holiday shopping season.  In other words, the key is to turn a distraction into an attraction.

*Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Consumer Tracking Service, 2015


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