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The weekly dispatch: Holiday spending is slowing, Amazon pauses expansion

Illustration of a person standing at a desk, gesturing to a large monitor displaying a line graph with dollar signs and snowflakes.

As the holiday season edges closer, brands are forming a better picture of expected shopping behaviors – and all signs show it’s a mixed bag. Unlike the previous two years of the pandemic, where consumers needed little incentive to spend big, the theme of 2022 can be summed up by two words: Price conscious.

Check out Deloitte’s latest holiday study, West Elm’s new partnership, and more in this week’s edition of the weekly dispatch.

West Elm and Branch Collab for B2B Partnership

An office interior.

West Elm, a global design and sustainable home furnishing company, has announced its partnership with top office furniture brand, Branch. 

This collaboration is a first for Branch with a major retailer, but for West Elm this is part of an ongoing expansion project to grow their business-to-business (B2B) division.  

The strategy for West Elm’s B2B business is to partner with DTC brands that align with their mission and design aesthetic to attract a broader and younger demographic. Branch will add another dimension to their office furniture collection with their premium ergonomic office designs targeting the popular remote worker and small to medium-sized businesses.

Vice President of West Elm’s Business, Cheryl Carpenter, says in a statement “Branch caught our eye because we loved their designs, which are paired with value-driven pricing and contract grade quality. By including Branch in our West Elm Business offering, we can give our business customers great choices at affordable price points and fast delivery times.”1

For Branch, a fast-growing office furniture DTC company, this partnership not only provides vast opportunity and exposure, but entry and access to the corporate sector of clients and customers.

2022 Holiday season spending set to slow compared with previous years

A person at a laptop computer holding a package in one hand and a credit card in the other.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the impact of inflation on consumer spending, and Deloitte’s holiday season forecast reflects the concern that many consumers are facing.

According to the accounting giant, holiday sales are expected to grow between 4% and 6% in 2022, compared with 15.1% during the throes of the pandemic a year prior.2

With prices continuing to rise, many consumers are being driven online in search of the best deals. In the words of Nick Handrinos, vice chair of Deloitte LLP, and U.S. retail, wholesale, and distribution: “retailers across channels who remain aligned with consumer demand and offer convenient and affordable options can be well positioned for success this season.”

In addition to stimulating discount-seeking behaviors, inflation is also resulting in many shoppers feeling anxious about the holiday season ahead. Deloitte also found that 59% of consumers surveyed were stressed about holiday spending this year, while 73% are watching their spending more closely than in previous years.

In this climate, brands will need to work extra hard to win consumers’ trust with transparency and straightforward promotions that capitalize on their desire for the best deal. 

Walmart takes further steps into third-party selling

Walmart interior with a sign that says ‘Welcome to your Walmart’.

Walmart is expanding its third-party selling platform Walmart Connect with a range of new features ahead of the holiday season, including personalized ads, campaign management, and automated onboarding for new sellers.3

This comes after the branding of the Walmart Media Group to Walmart Connect, recognizing a long-term shift in its retail strategy from a big-box storefront to an integrated multi-channel retail solution.4

By creating a closed ecosystem that offers consumers a variety of tools and touchpoints, Walmart is strengthening its value proposition by giving shoppers and sellers alike more reasons to stay loyal. As the go-to store for a broad variety of product categories, Walmart Connect is shaping up to be a serious competitor to Facebook’s selling capabilities.

Amazon puts the brakes on its fulfillment expansion project

Interior of an Amazon warehouse.

E-commerce giant Amazon has decided to take a step back from its warehouse expansion project that was slated to continue through 2023 and 2024.

Last year, it was reported that Amazon had doubled its fulfillment network and spending due to sky-high demand projections from the pandemic.  However, in Q1 of 2022 they reported a net loss of $3.8 billion, which equated to a $7.56 diluted share.5

In hindsight, those projections were coming from an unsustainable and volatile market.  Slowing demand as we come out of this post-pandemic period has told a completely different story than predicted by many e-commerce commentators. Consequently, Amazon plans to close 42 facilities based in the U.S., four facilities in Spain, and one planned for Germany.

CFO Brian Olsavsky, said on an earnings call, “Excess capacity and less productive facilities in the past several months have resulted in billions of dollars in added costs for the company.” In response, Amazon is slowing down its network expansion through 2023 “to better align with expected customer demand.”6

The closing of these facilities will result in either consolidation or sublease, allowing Amazon to recoup some of the capital expenditures and operational expenses typically associated with an expansion project loss.

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