Kojo Quartey: Shopping While Complaining, but it really could have been worse

Kojo Quartey, president Monroe County Community College
Kojo Quartey, president Monroe County Community College

To say the last few years have been difficult would be an understatement, but it could have been worse. Even as the pandemic situation improved in 2022, we were beset by other challenges, but it really could have been worse. The year 2022 was a year of inflation, an ongoing pandemic, supply-chain issues, and many other challenges, but again, it could have been worse. In spite of the numerous challenges, our economy remained robust, jobs were abundant, and consumers did not ease up on their consumption of goods and services. Inflation did not slow down our consumption, and neither have high interest rates or anything else that would seem to dampen consumer confidence and spending.

We keep spending, in spite of our complaining about higher prices and increasing interest rates. Yes, we keep complaining, but we keep spending. Even as gas prices skyrocketed, consumers moaned and groaned, but it did not dampen their expenditures. Why? Because there was an abundance of jobs, people were working, and they had the money to spend. We only buy what we can afford, especially if we can “buy now, pay later” or simply have the funds to purchase the item. We all know that having funds does not mean actual cash, because most are buying on credit.

Demand is affected by expectations, so expecting better economic conditions usually leads to increased demand. Just this week, a Conference Board survey indicated that consumers have a more favorable view regarding the economy and jobs. Consumer confidence had its strongest showing in the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index aftermonthly declines in November and October. The Index increased significantly from November to December, even as we had completed Thanksgiving and were well into our Holiday shopping, mhlnews.com reported.

So did consumers spend more or less during this inflationary holiday period? Even with still fairly high inflation and higher interest rates, consumer spending has not cooled down, and neither has our complaining and bellyaching about prices. Personally, I have ramped up my bellyaching about higher prices, while shopping, but that has not significantly decreased my demand. Of course, the decline in gas prices and the numerous discounts provided by retailers have boosted spending further. Yes, we keep complaining, but we keep spending! A recent USA Today headline reads, “$9.12 billion spent in a day: New Black Friday online spending record set in 2022, report says.”

According to the article’s author, Mike Snider, “Online shoppers didn't let concerns about higher prices or a recession keep them from a record-setting Black Friday. Consumers spent a record $9.12 billion while online shopping Friday, according to Adobe Analytics.” That’s 2.3% above the record set in 2020.

So, after observing (and not contributing to) the Black Friday shopping, I wondered what the Christmas spending would look like. While the final figures are not yet in, according to Forbes, the National Retail Federation expected holiday sales including online sales to be up 6% to 8% in 2022, compared to 13.5% a year ago. Adobe Analytics expected total holiday online sales (from Nov. 1-Dec. 31) to be up 2.5%, a jump less than last year’s 8.6% increase, but a jump nonetheless, in spite of our complaints about inflation.

According to a Forbes article by Jia Wertz, “Overall, holiday sales rose 7.6% this year, a slower pace than the 8.5% increase in 2021. However, Mastercard SpendingPulse had predicted a 7.1% so the results turned out better than anticipated.”

Consumers appear to be so resilient and retailers so gimmicky that many continue to shop because of the numerous deals and the fact that they have jobs and simply can afford to spend money on any number of goods. The final holiday sales figures are not all in yet, so we will have to wait and see how it all shakes out. I suspect that prices, as predicted, did not slow down our shopping, but it only increases our complaining, while still shopping. I know I am not going to stop my complaining about these high prices, but it really could have been worse.

Kojo Quartey is president of Monroe County Community College and an economist.

This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Kojo Quartey: Shopping While Complaining