Black Friday, Cyber Monday deals could leave shoppers with debt hangover

Americans’ good intentions around holiday spending seemingly didn’t survive the buffet of tempting deals retailers rolled out for Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year. 

Seven in 10 shoppers planned to take inflation into consideration, with about more than half reporting they intended to buy fewer things and 27% scaling back on their gift-giving, according to a recent RetailMeNot survey of more than 1,000 Americans.

Yet, Adobe Analytics estimated the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday will generate $34.8 billion in online spending. Cyber Monday alone is expected to be the biggest shopping day of 2022, netting retailers between $11.2 billion and $11.6 billion. Black Friday sales were already up 2.3% from last year, with shoppers spending $9.12 billion online. 

“After last year’s chip shortage, supply chain issues and scarcer deals, this year’s generous Black Friday discounts, especially on consumer electronics and clothing, are likely a nice surprise to shoppers,” Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at RetailMeNot, tells Fortune

Why the holiday shopping deals feel so hot

Unlike last year, retailers went into this holiday shopping season overstocked in home goods, electronics and casual clothing, McGrath says. “That’s a far cry from everything being sold out early like it was last year,” she adds, saying that the stockpile likely helped contribute to better 2022 deals. 

While Black Friday promotions started early—with some launching campaigns in early November—the bulk of the deepest discounts were still reserved for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Some clothing retailers, for example, added extra discounts with promo codes (in addition to sale prices) during Black Friday, leading to richer savings in an effort to entice consumers, McGrath says. “Those early deals are always great for people who know what they want and are looking for specific items early in the season. But Black Friday is a strategic time to shop for those who are unsure, or who want to cast a wide net for deals,” she adds. 

These deals were especially attractive to Americans who have been seeing a dearth of discounts this year amid inflation and higher prices. So it’s more than likely that the eye-catching Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions prompted some shoppers to make room in their budgets for some stuff that was in the “wants” column rather than the “needs column,” McGrath says. That said, it’s worth noting that those increased spending numbers from Adobe Analytics likely also have some inflation-related cost increase baked in too.

But even without the deals, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis calculated that the average inflation on typical holiday gifts likely will be lower than the overall annualized inflation rate of 7.7% published in the Consumer Price Index. Take those TVs, for example. The average price of new TVs fell a whopping 16.8% since last year, according to St. Louis Fed researchers.

Prices for toys remained relatively stable year over year, while jewelry prices are on track to creep up slightly by 0.9%—yet that’s still a far slower price growth than the 7.3% jump seen in 2021.

Holiday shopping binge could lead to debt overhang come January

For beleaguered American shoppers, the lower prices and deep discounts are a welcome change, but it could prove problematic if they cause consumers to spend more. That might leave a price to pay after the holiday season wraps. 

That’s because consumers are still feeling the pinch of inflation in overall spending despite taking advantage of holiday shopping deals. “Even if the cost of the gifts you want to buy isn’t being affected by inflation, if your budget is being drained by housing costs, transportation costs, your heating bill and groceries, you’re going to have less room to spend on discretionary purchases like holiday gifts,” McGrath says. 

In many cases, Americans have already been putting the extra burden of inflation off—and onto their credit cards. Americans’ credit card balances jumped more than 15% during the third quarter of 2022, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. NY Fed researchers found this was the largest year-over-year increase in more than two decades and continues the trend of rapid increases in credit card debt seen throughout 2022

Not only are Americans carrying higher credit card balances, they’re applying for more cards. The number of Americans applying for credit cards is up year-over-year, the NY Fed found

This all comes at a time when delinquency rates are on the rise for nearly all debt types after two years of historically low default rates. During the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, many banks and credit card issuers provided deferral and payment assistance programs that helped staunch default and delinquency rates, but those policies are ancient history. The rate of credit card accounts that moved into “serious delinquency,” meaning they were 90 days or more past due, increased by about half a percentage point year-over-year—a significant increase, but still below pre-pandemic levels for now. 

And credit cards aren’t the only method shoppers are using to pay for their purchases. The number of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) transactions increased by 68% last week (Nov. 21-27), while revenue from this payment method jumped 72%, according to Adobe Analytics. 

Here too, delinquencies are climbing: The number of borrowers with at least one serious delinquency jumped from 2.93% of users in 2020 to 3.79% in 2021, according to a September 2022 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And nearly one in 10 BNPL users paid at least one late fee in 2021, up from 7.8% in 2020. 

So while the holiday deals are perhaps undercutting inflation’s impact on consumers’ gift-giving, come January, the bills will still need to get paid. “Each shopper is going to have to do their own math on what they can afford, but the fact they’ll have to do that math and make some cuts is inevitable for many,” McGrath says.

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