I keep having second thoughts about the title for this column, given that it is being written the day after the Dow shed more than 600 points and the tech-heavy NASDAQ found itself in correction territory. Even the market’s movements 24 hours later do not assuage my ambivalence: a 400-point rebound for the Dow and 210 for NASDAQ. Still, a short few weeks ago we saw similar if somewhat lesser losses, only to be recouped fully over the following several days. Best to follow the experts’ advice and not spend too much time agonizing over the market’s day-to-day gyrations.
Whether current investor jitters on Wall Street will translate into consumer jitters on Main Street remains to be seen. According to a survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, a consumer-intent data provider, consumer confidence hit a 15-year high in August. More recently, the company, in association with the National Retail Federation, released the results of its annual survey on Winter Holiday Shopping. Those results speak of continued consumer confidence.
The survey found that consumers will spend 4.1 percent more this year than last on holiday-related shopping — $1,007.24 vs. $967.13. These buying plans are a reflection of confidence at near an all-time high, the lowest unemployment in decades, and higher take-home wages, according to NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. Whatever the reason, consumers appear to have some discretionary funds in their pockets and are willing to part with it. There is no reason why car washes cannot claim their share.
Where holiday shoppers are planning to spend their money is of as much interest as how much they intend to spend. Prosper’s survey finds that despite the ubiquity of online opportunities, only 55 percent of consumers will shop via the Internet. An equal percentage will shop at brick-and-mortar department stores; 51 percent will buy from discount stores and 44 percent from grocery stores; 33 percent will make their purchases at clothing stores; and 24 percent will shop at electronics stores.
These plans involve a lot of driving. The more vehicle miles travelled, the more car washes benefit. Furthermore, each of the shopping destinations mentioned qualifies as a traffic generator, a factor that plays a measurable part in the site selection process for every new car wash. Car washes located adjacent to or near such shopping hubs benefit from increased traffic and exposure. Here’s a surprising tidbit from the same survey that will generate even more traffic: 50 percent of online shoppers say they will pick up their purchases in store.
Another survey finding that works in the car wash operator’s favor: for the 12th year running, gift cards were the most popular item on participants’ shopping list, preferred by 60 percent of those surveyed. You can’t wrap a car wash package, but you sure can wrap a car wash gift card or coupon. Steve Gaudreau set out a step-by-step Xmas Gift Promotion in his Focus on Your Customer column in the October 1996 issue of Auto Laundry News. With the necessary adjustments to account for advancements in automation and other technology as well as the advent of the unlimited wash club, the promotion is as workable today as it was 22 years ago.