Inflation crisis one of the ‘worst’ in modern retail history, expert says

Strategic Resource Group managing director Burt Flickinger argued on Thursday that Americans are experiencing “one of the worst crises in modern retail history that we’ve seen and it has all evolved in less than a year.”

“This was not a crisis 12 months ago,” Flickinger noted.

He made the comments on “Mornings with Maria” the day after it was revealed that U.S. consumer prices accelerated at the fastest annual pace in more than 30 years as supply chain bottlenecks and materials shortages persisted and gasoline prices surged. 

The consumer price index climbed 6.2% year over year in October, according to the Labor Department. The increase marked the largest annual gain since November 1990. Prices rose 0.9% month over month. 


Analysts surveyed by Refinitiv were expecting prices to rise 0.6% in October and 5.8% annually.

“This is the biggest emerging economic crisis for consumers for over a decade,” Flickinger argued on Thursday. “The average cost of living for a family of four is up about $5,000 a year so now it’s a choice between heating homes, feeding families, or giving gifts.” 

He went on to argue that “you can’t do all three” especially because of “the massive amount of out-of-stocks,” which he said is “the highest in over 70 years.” 

In October, consumers have seen more than 2 billion out-of-stock messages online, according to Adobe, which noted that currently, electronics has the highest out-of-stock levels, followed by jewelry, apparel, home and garden, and pet products.

Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, noted that all the out-of-stock messages are signaling to consumers “the real impact of the supply chain challenges.” 

“Some have begun to adjust their holiday strategy accordingly, with parents shopping for toys earlier and some settling for gift cards this season,” he continued. “For those who have not yet started their holiday shopping, they will need to be prepared to be flexible.”

Flickinger stressed on Thursday that the situation is “going from bad to worse,” adding that “the only thing you can get with certainty” is gift cards, cash and checks, which he argued “are IOUs for next year, but next year the prices are going to be higher.”

In addition to certain products being hard to find, the prices for almost everything, including used items, are higher. Food prices edged up 0.9% last month as the food at home category saw a 1% increase, according to the Labor Department. All food prices are up 5.3% year over year. 

Also contributing to the rise were new and used vehicle prices, which in October rose 1.4% and 2.5%, respectively. Prices for new vehicles were 9.8% above year-ago levels while used vehicle prices were up 26.4% from October 2020.

Energy prices, meantime, jumped 4.8% last month and were up 30% over the past year. The October increase was largely the result of a 6.1% rise in the cost of gasoline. 

Consumers may be forced to have to cut down on their holiday shopping as they prep for critical expenses such as heating their homes. And this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), paying for heat is going to take a sizable chunk out of some budgets. 

With higher propane prices and slightly colder temperatures this winter compared to years past, the EIA projects that U.S. households that primarily rely on heating with propane will spend nearly 50% more during this heating season. While the Northeast and the South will spend 47% and 43% more, respectively, the Midwest, is projected to spend upwards of 69% more, according to the EIA.  The main contributor to this increase will be higher retail propane prices, which are being driven by low propane inventory levels coupled with high wholesale prices, according to the EIA.   

At the same time, some meteorologists project that it will be a busy winter season nationwide, especially in the Northeast which may see an early arrival of winter weather.  

“Heating is going to be a crisis just like we saw in the Nixon, Carter years of the Vietnam era where we had record energy and heating prices, record inflation,” Flickinger argued. “We’re going to see the same thing.”


He then argued that more heating and financial relief for seniors and people on fixed and limited incomes will be needed. 

“Going into this, one out of every eight Americans was living below the poverty level,” Flickinger said. “It could soon be one out of every seven, one out of every six, potentially one out of every five Americans living below the poverty level by this time next year with all the rising costs.”


FOX Business’ Jonathan Garber and Daniella Genovese contributed to this report.