Despite the tumultuous political climate, U.S. consumer spending continued to rise in 2018, increasing incrementally each quarter and reaching an all-time high of $12968.54 USD billion.
With consumer spending on the rise and most lighting showrooms nationwide reporting steady to better-than-average sales, 2018 is predicted to finish strong. That prognosis might change for 2019, however, as the second round of tariffs on Chinese imports takes effect.
In January, the tariff percentage rises to 25 percent, an increase too high for many manufacturers to absorb as some did in the fall so as not to disrupt sales during the busiest retail season of the year. The true impact of the tariffs on consumer spending will probably not be effectively calculated until mid-way through 2019 and beyond.
Adding to the strength of consumer spending this year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the unemployment rate had declined to 3.7 percent in September 2018. Economists are predicting unemployment will continue to remain low in the year ahead — which historically bodes well for the economy.
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“Having a furniture line is a serious thing to me. I want it to be quality, and I want the product to be something someone is glad that they bought.”
While sales for lighting showrooms remained the same or better, there was a noticeable shift in shopping patterns in 2018. Many retailers in attendance at the fall American Lighting Association (ALA) Conference reported less foot traffic in their stores. Complicating matters is the number of customers who either walked out empty-handed to purchase the same lighting on the internet (i.e. showrooming) or those who came in with a print-out of a fixture’s discounted price online and asking for a price match, eroding the retailer’s margin.
These challenges won’t be going away in the coming year. In fact, retail in 2019 won’t be a continuation of how it was in 2018; it’s going to change. The past year has brought the terms “experiential retail” and “immersive shopping” to the forefront. Both involve a level of customer engagement that has never been a vital part of retail before.
Having a successful brick-and-mortar business in 2019 means offering an experience more akin to the excitement of visiting Disneyland® or providing the expertise expectation of an Apple store as the idea of “Retailtainment” takes hold.
The year 2018 also saw influential personalities affecting consumer buying habits. Forbes magazine recently named celebrity scion Kylie Jenner one of America’s richest women (at $900 million) with an $800 million cosmetics empire that is only two years old and marketed primarily through social media.
The home furnishings world also offers product lines endorsed by famous personalities, and 2018 was no different. This year saw the launch of home décor items from comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Jeff Foxworthy, who join a list of TV/movie stars with product lines such as Donny Osmond and Reese Witherspoon, Country singer Trisha Yearwood, and the plethora of design-related personalities such as Jeff Lewis, Joanna Gaines, and the Property Brothers, among others. Interior designers whose work has gained nationwide recognition also launched or expanded lighting lines this year, such as Denise McGaha with Currey & Company, Mark D. Sikes, Corey Damen Jenkins, and Martyn Lawrence Bullard with Hudson Valley Lighting Group, Lisa McDennon with Hinkley, and Windsor Smith with Arteriors.
The year 2018 could easily be considered the year Instagram turned ordinary people (and their dogs) into “celebrities” and elevated home décor fans into “design influencers.” This is another trend that will not be waning in 2019.
In order to thrive in the year ahead, retailers and manufacturers alike will have to make a more concentrated effort on “branding” their identity with consumers and increasing their involvement on social media platforms and local community events to stay visible and relevant.