As consumer confidence grows, uncertainty lingers

Jun 10, 2021
Written by Renée Sunde, President & CEO

There are signs everywhere of economic recovery in Washington State as we anxiously wait for June 30 to fully open up our economy. But the outlook is still somewhat uneven and riddled with unknowns.

Some retailers have experienced one of their most profitable years in decades while other mostly small businesses have struggled to get shoppers back in their doors with limited capacity limits. Maybe it was the essential/non-essential designation early on, fear of the virus, or the digital demand for online access but recovery has not been equal for all retailers.

With a growing percentage of Washingtonians who have been vaccinated and household savings topping 20% of disposable income as of qtr. 1, it appears we are headed for a strong recovery in the coming year, according to Cailin Birch, a global economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit.

It’s not just economists but consumers who seem to feel that way too but it doesn’t mean that the uncertainty faced last year has completely vanished. According to recent studies through the Espos-Forbes U.S. Consumer Confidence Tracker, sentiment is still a bit shaky especially around the expectations of jobs.

As consumers spend more of their time and money on services and experiences this could add complications for our small retailers. The biggest challenge may be more about a scarcity mindset and worries that inflation may trickle down to the shopper and their personal family finances.

“Retailers may be encouraged by the green shoots they are seeing now that many places are reopening, but it would be foolish to assume that everything will magically revert to the way things were in 2019 or early 2020,” First Insight CEO Greg Petro said in a statement.

Uncertainty remains but it’s a different sort. It’s not like last spring but there still is a lot of newness and change which has brought a different kind of caution as we continue through the year. All in all, 2021 brings opportunity and consumers seem to agree that there are blue skies ahead. It will take some time for “certainty” to become the new default for retailers and shoppers across the state.