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Consumers Less Tense, Still Thrifty, for Holiday: NRF

Survey shows 10-point decline in consumers anxious over pre-holiday economy.

Reduced anxiety about the U.S. economy isn’t expected to translate into a corresponding willingness to increase holiday spending.

The National Retail Federation’s annual holiday consumer spending survey, culled from interviews conducted by BIGinsight with nearly 8,900 American adults, demonstrated a marked drop from the 2011 study in the public’s concern about the economy, but hardly a boost in spending intentions. Asked if the state of the nation’s finances would have an impact on their holiday spending, 52.3 percent replied affirmatively, nearly a 10-point drop from the 62.2 percent who said yes in the 2011 survey. Among those expressing such concern, a smaller portion indicated they would cut back on spending as a result — 80.5 percent versus 82.6 percent in last year’s survey.

NRF reported Wednesday that consumers expect to spend an average of $749.51 on gifts, decorations, cards and other items, just 1.2 percent above the $740.57 they actually spent for the holidays last year.

Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of NRF, commented, “More than half of Americans this holiday season will feel the impact of the economy and will compensate by doing what they’ve been doing for several years — looking for ways to cut any corners, comparative shop online and in stores more often, and even planning to travel less or not at all.”

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Without exception, consumers expressing economic concerns demonstrated lower levels of enthusiasm for strategies that might help them economize. The percentage intending to shop for sales more often was the most frequent tact endorsed, drawing 46.4 percent of concerned respondents versus 49.4 percent last year. Those intending to do more comparative shopping online dropped to 31.4 percent from 32.1 percent a year ago, and those intending to travel less or not at all during the holidays fell to 23.2 percent from 25.8 percent.

Don’t expect a burst of homemade gifts as consumers watch their wallets — those intending to make more gifts for family and friends fell to 12.9 percent from 13.7 percent. With their purse strings already loosened, nearly three in five consumers — 59 percent — intend to take advantage of holiday discounts to buy for themselves or their families, with the average budget for that purpose up to $139.93, up from $137.17 last year.

The survey showed a bit more eagerness to begin the holiday shopping process, with 41.4 percent of consumers starting before November, up from 38.9 percent last year.

In descending order of popularity, intended holiday shopping destinations were led by discount stores (65.3 percent), department stores (57.8 percent) and online and grocery stores/supermarkets (51.8 percent each). Online shopping advanced more than five points from the 2011 survey, when it was selected by 46.7 percent of respondents.

The percentage of those owning tablets nearly doubled to 22.4 percent from 10.5 percent a year ago, while smartphone ownership was up to 46.1 percent penetration from 39.7 percent in 2011. Yet 47.1 percent of smartphone owners said they intended to make purchases with them, down slightly from 47.4 percent last year.

Earlier this month, NRF projected a 4.1 percent increase in holiday spending this year versus last and a 12 percent increase in holiday e-commerce sales. Last year’s holiday sales were pegged at $563.02 billion, with online purchases accounting for between $92 billion and $96 billion.