Remember the July ecommerce sentiment survey?  82% of respondents were optimists saying business in August would be better than July.  Only 9% said it would be worse.   But the optimists of July turned into the realists of August.  

28% of respondents said business was worse- 3x the expected number.  And only 55% said business was better.  While this is still a positive report it is markedly less so than the super rosey survey just a month before.  What gives?

August turned out to be a crazy month.  By August 1 the S&P was in the middle of a 20% dive that hit bottom on August 8.  The rest of August was a series of ups and downs as bad news from Europe, Hurricane Irene and general political dissatisfaction in the U.S.  turned a mildly positive outlook into…something else.  I mean, it is hard to stay optimistic when unemployment remains above 9%.

So given this uncertainty and the cold water thrown in the face of restaurant ecommerce operators, you would think that the September outlook would be poor.  You would think…but you would be wrong.  It seems this industry is stubbornly optimistic. 

Only 9% of respondents expected September to be worse than August- the same as the previous month’s survey.  The survey sample was less than 100 but even so, you would think that thenegatives would be higher.  What did climb was uncertainty.  Answer “the same” and “unsure” rose from 9% to 28% at the expense of Better which dropped from 82% the month before to 64%. 

This makes sense.  Most small business operators are reluctant to be pessimistic so a little rough sailing won’t trigger immediate negativity.  This is the sector’s greatest strength and a serious weakness.  Small business tends to operate with a relatively small cash reserve to cover lean times, and small business lending is often the first place banks cut when the economy turns down.  We have only ourselves to help us through downturns.  Let’s hope the September survey shows improvement.