Supermarkets, get ahead of a Grinch-y Congress

October 08, 2013

This is no time for business as usual. To earn holiday sales, food stores need to convince shoppers they’re on their side.

The debt-ceiling countdown could make the federal government shutdown look like small potatoes.

The consequences of a U.S. default on debt would be global—and the impact would be especially harsh in domestic markets. Most readers of The Lempert Report are aware of the potential cascading effect on interest rates, investor skittishness and many aspects of business.

Few expect a default to happen. But anything goes in Washington these days, and that potential scares people. Some 818,000 federal workers missed paychecks because of the shutdown—though it appears they’ll be paid retroactively once funding is restored. While the Pentagon found this weekend what it believes is legal justification to order most of its 400,000 furloughed civilian staffers back to work, politicians who don’t feel the same pain or live by the same rules as the rest of us worry the public.  

Therefore, looking ahead to the main holiday season, dysfunction in the Capitol has forecasters ready to place contingencies on retail sales growth prospects. A weak sales tone set by Back-to-School likely alerted merchants it would take more than business as usual to earn trips and customer-spend in the latter half of 2013. At The Lempert Report, we feel the sooner stores demonstrate they’re on shoppers’ side in uncertain times, the more they’ll earn trips and trust.

While retailers vie for greater share of volume related to big holiday dinners at home, that’s only the showiest part of the season. Sure, it will help stores become a resource if they message, assort and price around these holiday events.  But the fact is most food and beverage needs are the quick, convenient, everyday kind—because people want the meals around the big holiday events to take as little effort as possible.  

At this time of year, with school and work demands, worsening weather, and the emotions surrounding holidays, people want less pressure, more expediency, and quality and value. They also want empathy from stores that understand their economic and emotional plight. Stores that message and deliver on these themes have a better chance to win the season, because they’ll ring especially true with shoppers during the rest of this calendar year.