NEW YORK — There will be a significant “gift shift” during the holiday season in which consumers are expected to focus on giving “intangible” gifts, independent retail consultant Annette McEvoy told attendees at Wednesday’s Christmas 2005: The Retail Forecast conference held here at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

As demand for gifts is increasingly outpacing supply, consumers are rethinking gift-giving. They are now looking at giving “experiences” or services, according to McEvoy, who is president of consultancy A. McEvoy & Associates. She said this is empowering shoppers, who want to give presents that are more personal, meaningful and one-of-a-kind compared with the infamous “Christmas sweater,” for example.

“We’ve all been getting our 12th sweater, or disappointed in the gifts we’re giving someone,” McEvoy said, adding that most “gift-shift” givers want recipients to truly appreciate, as well as use, the gifts they receive.

The top “gift-shift” categories this holiday season, according to McEvoy, will include: education, for example, college tuition payments, or retraining classes for retirees; services, such as massages and spa visits; charities, such as gift cards whose recipients can donate the entire card amount to a cause they choose; entertainment, including movie passes or vacations; essentials, like gas gift cards; health services, such as high-acoustic hearing aids; “learned leisure,” such as Photoshop lessons, which would be useful to share photos with family; and social, such as gift certificates to favorite restaurants.

Two other increasingly important — but ongoing — “gift-shift” items have been gift cards and cash, McEvoy said. “Gift cards are king…and cash is queen, and together they are the largest gift-giving category during Christmas.” Of all cash and gift cards received, about 20 percent of those purchases go back to apparel and jewelry categories, she noted.

Now, while Baby Boomers and persons in upper-income demographics have typically been those giving traditional, tangible gifts during the holidays, people of all age groups are expected to be giving and receiving “shift gifts” this year, McEvoy said. Baby Boomers will typically be the recipients of services, for example, while teens will be the recipients of cash. Those in older demographic groups will likely receive health services, and kids are apt to receive trips to Disneyland or stores like Build-A-Bear Workshop and American Girl gift cards.

This story first appeared in the October 28, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

All told, however, the expected “gift shift” doesn’t mean an end to conventional retailing and gift-giving. To that end, McEvoy said retailers need to recognize — and find a way to capitalize on — the psychology of “gift shifting.”

“The astute retailer has to do a number of things, and it would be helpful to look at their programs in this light,” McEvoy said.

Some ways retailers can take advantage of the “gift shift” would be to place gift cards in the center of the store, instead of at cash registers or merchandise pickup locations, and have in-store product price tiers better correspond to preset gift card amounts.

The Christmas 2005: The Retail Forecast conference was presented by the Retail Marketing Society in partnership with the Merrill Lynch & Co. retail research team and FIT’s Center for Professional Studies.

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