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The Top Ten Holiday-Shopping Trends


A look at what the Great American Consumer will do next.

About the best that can be said for 2009 is that our world didn't actually blow up, though there were moments when it looked like it might. The bad news is, now we have to get all revved up for the festive holiday season.

America's merchandisers are already wound up and ready to go, primed with survey data and analyst projections that forecast an unusual holiday season, to say the least.

We've compiled the top-10 trends, culled from the predictions of pollsters and trend-spotters, plus some inspired guesswork about what we, the Great American Consumer, will do next.

1. The Worst Is Over

We're a little less anxious than we were last year, but we're in no mood to max out the credit cards.

That, in one sentence, sums up the findings of all the holiday-season surveys out there.

Two-thirds of Americans say the economy will affect their holiday-spending plans this year, according to a National Retail Federation survey. A total 84.2% say they'll spend a little less than last year, and most will search for discounts and use coupons.

2. Mark It Down and They Will Come

Not surprisingly, the end-of-year clearance sales started well before the Halloween candy-corn got moved to the sale bins.

Walmart (WMT) is already offering 100 toys for $10 each, and promising to match any competitor's price on toys. Target (TGT) slashed the prices of many toys like the Barbie Fashion Doll from Mattel (MAT) and the GI Joe Tough Troopers Figure from Hasbro (HAS), in half.

They're expecting shoppers to come out earlier than usual in hopes of scoring the kind of deals available at the start of the 2008 season.

According to the Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey of 526 consumers, 69% expect to finish most of their shopping by December 7, compared with 60% a year ago.

About 52% (10% more than last year), say they'll even brave "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving.

3. Let's Be Practical

We're all tough customers this year.

A total of 86% of shoppers surveyed say they won't buy anything without a 20% discount, and a quarter will demand at least half off.

Remember 2007, when commercials showed happy consumers presenting shiny new luxury cars to their spouses, or draping each other in diamonds? Well, that was then.

The two most frequently mentioned gifts for the 2009 holidays are gift cards and clothing.

This year's shoppers don't even want the season's "hot" gift item, whatever that might be. They want to give -- and receive -- something warm, like a nice sweater from Limited Express (LTD).

4. Free Is Good

On the Internet, consumers will be deluged with commercial messages this year, delivered by every trendy new means the marketers can get their hands on.

This year, that means they're sprucing up Facebook pages, firing out Tweets, and preparing commercial blogs and RSS feeds designed to lure customers into their stores, online and brick-and-mortar.

So much for the "social media" revolution.

But what do customers want most from the Internet? Free delivery, they say, even more than competitive pricing (although they want that, too).

5. Candy Is Better

When it comes to frills, consumers say they'll make do with less this year.

They'll use the holiday ornaments they already have in the closet. They plan to spend less than in past years on decorations, flowers, greeting cards, and postage.

But small edible luxuries are welcome. Candy, particularly. The average person plans to spend $10 more on candy and food for the holidays than last year, or $90.26 this year compared to $80.28 in 2008. Hello, Cadbury (CBY)!
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