CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Millions of American shoppers are hitting stores and websites this weekend looking for deals.
The Adobe Digital Economy Index expects U.S. shoppers to spend $207 billion online this holiday season, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday accounting for roughly $20 billion.
The two shopping days could not come at a better time, according to one Charlotte-area family-owned business, as it warns prices will only go up headed into next year.
What You Need To Know
U.S. customers are expected to spend $207 billion online this holiday season
Charlotte business warns prices will only go up after holidays end
Adobe Digital Economy Index says “out-of-stock” messages up 172%
Roddey Player and his staff at Queen City Audio, Video & Appliances have been operating under strained conditions for more than 20 months since the pandemic began last year.
Player spends hours of his day tracking shipments and manufacturing updates for his appliance business.
“It is taking an exorbitant amount of time to really acquire the product, much much more time than it used to. I’m gonna say probably three times as much as it used to,” Player said in his office.
Player is president and chief executive officer for the business, which was started by his father in 1952.
“My son and daughter are in the business now. So we actually still have three generations working because my mother still works in the business with us too,” Player said with a smile.
The Queen City brand extends to seven Charlotte area stores and an online shop, which Player joked should count as another location due to rising online retail. In the seven decades they’ve been in business, Player said they have seen their fair share of challenges.
“Back in the early ’70s, gasoline was a shortage. Couldn’t get gasoline. And so, trying to find somebody who would allocate gasoline so he could run his delivery trucks was important during those times. So, there’s always something going on,” Player said, reflecting on memories of his dad running the business.
The challenges took different shapes and forms over the decades, including the gasoline shortage, high interest rates in the 1980s and now the headaches of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Player said small and family businesses like his are more adept at meeting quickly changing situations, as opposed to large chains. Especially, the last 20 months, when the pandemic wreaked havoc on supply chains, staffing and customers.
“You get out of bed because you’ve got a lot of families that depend on our business to operate,” Player said.
The ability to make changes quickly helped Player and his staff get ahead of the curve, ordering millions of dollars of appliances right as COVID-19 was spreading in the United States. Now, Player credits those decisions and major capital investments with helping the business survive.
“Two years ago we had $6 million of inventory, and so, currently, we have over $20 million of inventory available for our customers out there right now,” Player explained.
The investment did not come without risk, but Player said they got lucky.
“At the same time we were investing our resources in this projected hedge against availability, you know our business started growing dramatically too. Our business has doubled in the last 20 months also,” Player said.
The incoming cash from the increased demand has helped sustain the business and pay off its early onslaught of ordering products. Changing customer behavior, like online and mobile shopping, kept his 160 employees busy with dramatic increases in sales over the phone and online.
“We’ve been essential employees through this whole pandemic,” Player said.
Despite the changes in consumer behavior, some customers, like Erica and Gregory McCormick, still went out on Black Friday 2021 looking for deals.
“Most definitely,” Erica McCormick joked.
The couple wanted to upgrade an aging washer and dryer. After searching at a larger chain, the couple said Queen City had comparable prices.
“Because of the sale, you know, I’m a little bit happy with the prices. So, this is the first time that I’m looking actually,” McCormick said.
Gregory McCormick added he was glad the store did not have stock shortages like the large chain he already visited.
“This facility seems to have what we need, so we haven’t really been to a lot of places,” he said as they shopped. He stated the supply chain issues did not really affect their search for a washer and dryer as they completed their purchase Friday.
U.S. customers might not have the same luck at other stores. Out-of-stock messages have increased 172% compared to January 2020, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index. Adobe said clothing, sporting goods, baby products and electronics are the most affected items.
Back at Queen City, Player said Black Friday looked different this year and more changes could be on the way.
“Over the last two Black Fridays the selection has narrowed, the discounts have lessened from a manufacturer’s support perspective,” Player explained.
Thanks to plastic, microchip and foam insulation supply chain issues, he said prices on appliances have increased 15% to 18% in the last 20 months. He also said prices will likely not come down after the holidays.
“Prices in January are going to be higher than they are today. And so, really, Black Friday has really turned into Black November. So we have been at Black Friday prices, the best prices, really since the second or third of November,” Player said.
Once again, he and three other staff members tasked with making purchases for the business tried to think ahead, buying as much as they could to keep price increases minimal for at least the time being.
“The time is now, because prices will be moving up, December into January. And so, we bought as much of the product at the lower prices as we can,” Player added.
Prices on appliances are likely to increase another 5% to 10% in the next year, according to Player. He said he has seen such increases in the past, like when the stainless steel shortage hit the industry suddenly a few years ago, but this has been more gradual.
“The longer you wait, the more expensive it’s going to be,” he warned.
Meaning, there are more supply orders to track and hours spent at his desk, keeping the lights on at the family business.
“We’ve been real lucky, and my team’s worked real hard to make sure that our customers are taken care of,” Player said.