Biz crawl at the bottom of my mental screen

dwyerlogoTime for the business news. The National Retail Federation, the big D.C. lobbying group that represents 15,000-plus American retailers, usually releases its Christmas season forecast around this time — Sept. 20 or so. I went looking for it this morning and couldn’t find a word about it. A business reporter I know told me she heard that the forecast has been delayed until October.

I suppose this means the NRF, which is usually so optimistic about holiday spending (they have to be — Christmas makes up a fifth or so of all American consumer purchases during the year; more like 40 percent in some sectors), has to come up with a new way to break it to America gently. Christmas is going suck for retailers. (Deloitte LP already says so — a zero percent increase in sales.)

But maybe not suck as much as last year? Depends.

(And while we’re on the subject — are YOU planning to spend more or less this Christmas? Have you taken my fun survey? Has everyone you know taken my fun survey? I need more respondents!)

The NRF did put out a telltale news release last week: cargo ship imports to the USA are way down, to about 2003 levels. There’s all the Christmas stuff you aren’t buying.

I don’t feel so sorry for the retailers, who’d grown used to American shopaholism to provide overall increases in revenues for years, which, after all is said and done, was funded by an endless appetite for credit. For once, people are saving money and paying down credit cards and I refuse to see that as a bad thing, even if it kills off some malls. (You all know how much I love malls — I really do.)

Here’s who I feel sorry for: People who need extra work at Christmas time. The number of people who will get parttime jobs in retail is expected to be lower than it has been since 1989.

In 2007, there were more than 700,000 seasonal retail workers at Christmas, hired to help out with the mad rush. In 2008, that number dropped by half. A forecast from a research group and “global outplacement consultancy” called Challenger, Gray & Christmas (I don’t know who Challenger and Gray are, but Mr. Christmas certainly picked the wrong line of work) says that the part-time holiday employment picture might improve slightly from last year — but people will have to wait until the last minute to get hired, and may have to work on a day-labor type basis. And forget about sales clerking: they need you in the back room. I wonder how they even count these numbers anymore, since there were, according to Challenger and pals, twice as many non-seasonal retail jobs lost so far this year as there were at this time in 2008. Almost 90,000 people who work in retail have lost their jobs so far in 2009. So that just adds more people to the season temp pool.

Boring, I know. This stuff fascinates me for some reason. Check out Grinchy Britt Beemer, consumer trend expert and the CEO of America’s Research Group. He might as well be telling Old Navy and Macy’s and Brookstone and Abercrombie and everyone else to just kill themselves now:

“The data foretells a very scary Christmas shopping season with consumers radically cutting back at a time when retailers need shoppers to shore up sagging … sales. I am fearful Christmas will be retail train-wreck this year.”

Yes, but Britt darling, be specific. What do you think the chances are for a shiny-covered nonfiction book about people in Texas who really like to Christmas shop? Be honest, lamb.

(“Consumer Whore” logo by Kieron Dwyer. Read more about it here.)

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