By  on October 21, 2009

Holiday shoppers can be counted on to check their gift lists more than once or twice — with a sharp eye on bargains because of plans to spend less than they did in 2008, according to two new polls.

About two-thirds of consumers surveyed this month by The Zandl Group for WWD anticipate cutting outlays for holiday gifts, while the National Retail Federation’s 2009 “Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey” showed 43 percent of shoppers will be bargain hunting.

The 8,431 people polled by NRF this month expect to spend about $682 a person on average, or 3.2 percent less than the $705 spent last year.

The desire to “stay thrifty” and concerns the economy is “still bad” are leading twice as many people ages 18 to 35 to anticipate spending less on gifts than they did in 2008, according to The Zandl Group.

“The thriftiness really surprised me a bit,” said Irma Zandl, president of The Zandl Group, a consultant and researcher in consumer trends and marketing. “Being thrifty is something people are valuing [per se], versus doing it because they don’t have any money. People want to get out of debt. They have been saving and want to keep saving.”

Among the first 100 adults who responded online to Zandl’s poll, 58 percent said they would spend less this holiday because of thriftiness, while 36 percent said they harbored concerns about the effects of the “still bad” U.S. economy. The survey participants were recruited and pre-screened by the marketing group, which considers them keen cultural observers and tastemakers on the leading edge of socioeconomic trends.

“Adjusting to uncertainty has now become routine for many Americans,” NRF president and chief executive officer Tracy Mullin said. “This holiday season will be a dance between retailers and shoppers, with each group feeling out the other to understand how things have changed and how they must adapt.”

Consumers are likely to keep waiting for the best prices they can find, but will be confronting a marketplace with fewer goods than in recent seasons, said Ellen Davis, NRF vice president. “There’s a back and forth over the timing of best deals for customers and the best ways to bring people into the stores.”

For the one-third of tastemakers who signaled they will increase their holiday gift budgets this year, Zandl said, “Spending more could mean spending hundreds of dollars more, versus going on a big shopping spree and spending thousands.”

In fact, anticipation that stores will be having “great sales” was the top reason people polled by Zandl expected to boost their outlays — it was mentioned by 40 percent. “Feeling the urge to splurge” was a close second.

The most likely beneficiaries? Clothing and fashion accessories, cited by 75 percent of the tastemakers as the gift most likely on their holiday shopping lists, followed by electronics and DVDs.

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